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The Senator Gravel Edition 


The Defense Departmem 
History of United States 
Decisionmaking on 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 

Gravel Edition / Pentagon Papers / Volume II 

- SV/v />- 7C 


The Senator Gravel Edition 

The Pentagon Papers 

The Defense Department 
History of United States 
Decisionmaking on Vietnam 

Volume II 

Beacon Press Boston 

The contents of this volume are drawn from the 
official record of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee 
on Public Buildings and Grounds. No copyright is claimed 
in the text of this official Government document. 
Library of Congress catalog card number: 75-178049 
International Standard Book Number: 0-8070-0526-6 (hardcover) 

0-8070-0527-4 (paperback) 

Beacon Press books are published under the 
auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Association 
Printed in the United States of America 


The preparation of the subcommittee record was performed under the direction 
of Senator Gravel. No material was added to or changed in the study or appended 
documents and statements. In some cases, material was illegible or missing. If this 
occurred within a direct quotation, the omission was indicated with a bracketed 
statement. If it occurred in narrative text, it was bridged by removing the entire 
sentence in which it appeared, when it was evident that no substantive material 
would be lost by this procedure; otherwise, the omission was indicated by a 
bracketed statement. All other bracketed insertions appear in the original study. 



Introduction by U.S. Senator Mike Gravel 
Letter of Transmittal by Leslie H. Gelb 

1. Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950 

2. U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954 

3. The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954 

4. U.S. and France in Indochina, 1950-1956 

5. Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960 


1. The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 

2. The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 

3. Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 

4. The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November 1963 

5. US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967 

6. The Advisory Build-up, 1961-1967 

7. Re-emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967 


1. U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, November 1963-April 1965 

2. Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965 

3. The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965 

4. American Troops Enter the Ground War, March- July, 1965 


1. The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968 

2. U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968 

[At the end of each volume is a collection of documents, a section entitled 
"Justification of the War — Public Statements," and a Glossary] 


Contents of Volume II 

1. The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 1 

Sumfnary and Analysis 1 

Chronology 5 

I. Background 17 

II. The Counterinsurgency Plan 23 

III. The Spring Decisions — I 30 

IV. From May to September 55 

V. The Fall Decisions— I 73 

VI. The Fall Decisions— II 102 

2. The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 128 

Summary and Analysis 128 

Chronology 1 3 1 

I. Introduction 132 

II. The Formulation of the Strategic Hamlet Program 135 

III. Developing a Consensus Among the Advisors 140 

IV. The Advisors "Sell" Diem (or Vice-Versa) 143 
V. Differing Perspectives and Expectations 145 

VI. The National Plan Emerges 148 

VII. The Path to the End 153 

VIII. An Inconclusive Summary 158 

3. Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 160 

Summary 160 

Chronology 165 

I. 1962 173 

II. 1963 177 

III. 1964 ! ( )2 

4. The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 201 

Summary and Analysis 201 

Chronology 207 

I. Introduction 224 

viii Contents of Volume II 

II. The Buddhist Crisis: May 8-August 21 225 

A. The Crisis Erupts 225 

B. The U.S. "No Alternatives to Diem" Policy 228 

III. Lodge vs. Diem: August 20-October 2 232 

A. The Pagoda Raids and Repercussions 232 

B. Mis-Coup 236 

C. Toward a New Policy 240 

D. The McNamara-Taylor Mission 247 

IV. The Coup Matures: October 2-November 1 252 

A. The South Vietnamese Situation in October 252 

B. The New American Policy 253 

C. Renewed Coup Plotting 256 
V. The Coup and Its Aftermath: November 1-23 264 

A. The Coup 264 

B. Establishment of an Interim Regime 270 

C. The Honolulu Conference and NSAM 273 21 A 

5. US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967 277 

Summary and Analysis 277 

Chronology 290 

I. Aftermath of the Diem Coup, First Half of 1964 303 
II. Ambassador Taylor's First Seven Months: Planning for "Bomb 

North" Amid Turbulence in the South 326 

III. The U.S. Enters the War: Flaming Dart to the Steady Influx of 
U.S. Forces, June, 1965 353 

IV. The Ky Government's Early Months: The Coup to the Embrace at 
Honolulu, February, 1966 362 

V. A Rebellion, a Constituent Assembly, and the Hardships of Nego- 
tiating with a "Weak" Government 369 
VI. A Seven-Nation Conference, Legitimate Government, and High 

Hopes for the Future, October, 1966-September, 1967 387 

6. The Advisory Build-Up, 1961-1967 408 

Summary and Analysis 408 

Chronology 415 

I. Advisory Stability, 1954-1960 431 

A. The U.S. Gamble with Limited Resources 431 

B. The Transition Period: 1959-1961 435 
II. The Advisory Build-Up, 1961-1967 438 

A. The Kennedy Programs (1961-1963) 438 

B. District Advisors and the Beef-Up of Battalion Advisory Teams 
(1964-1965) 457 

Contents of Volume 11 ix 

C. U.S. Combat Forces and the Possibility of New Relationships 
(1965) 474 

D. Organization as the Key to Effectiveness in Pacification (1966- 
1967) 483 

7. Re-emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967 515 

Summary 515 

I. Threads That Met at Honolulu 521 

A. Hop Tac 521 

B. Ambassador Lodge and the "True Believers" 527 

C. The III Marine Amphibious Force 533 

D. Washington Grumbles About the Effort 536 

E. Presidential Emphasis on the "Other War" and Press Reaction 542 

F. Meanwhile, Back at the War . . . 545 
II. Honolulu 548 

A. The Conference — February 1966 548 

B. Impact on Public in U.S. on U.S. Mission in Vietnam, and on 
Vietnamese 554 

III. Honolulu to Manila 560 

A. Saigon: Porter in Charge 560 

B. Washington: Komer as the Blowtorch 567 

C. Study Groups and Strategists: Summer 1966 576 

D. The Single Manager 589 

E. The Manila Conference 607 

IV. OCO to CORDS 609 

A. OCO on Trial: Introduction 609 

B. OCO on Trial: Too Little Too Late— Or Not Enough Time? 612 

C. Time Runs Out 615 

D. The CORDS Reorganization 619 

E. The Mission Assessment as CORDS Begins 621 

Documents 624 

Justification of the War — Public Statements 794 



Gravel Edition / Pentagon Papers / Volume II 


1. The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 

Summary and Analysis 

When Kennedy took office, the prospect of an eventual crisis in Vietnam had 
been widely recognized in the government, although nothing much had yet 
been done about it. Our Ambassador in Saigon had been sending worried ca- 
bles for a year, and twice in recent months [in September 1960 and again in 
December] had ended an appraisal of the situation by cautiously raising the 
question of whether the U.S. would not sooner or later have to move to replace 
Diem. Barely a week after taking office, Kennedy received and approved a 
Counter-Insurgency Plan (CIP) which, at what seems to have been a rather 
leisurely pace, had been going through drafting and staffing for the previous 
eight months. 

The CIP was a most modest program by the standard we have become ac- 
customed to in Vietnam. It offered Diem financial support for a 20,000 man 
increase in his army, which then stood at 150,000; plus support for about half 
of the counter-guerrilla auxiliary force known as the Civil Guard. In return, it 
asked Diem for a number of reforms which appeared to the American side as 
merely common sense — such as straightening out command arrangements for 
the army under which 42 different officials directly responsible to Diem (38 
province chiefs, 3 regional commanders, and a Chief of Staff) shared opera- 
tional command. 

The CIP was superseded in May by an enlarged version of the same program, 
and the only longer term significance the original program held was that it 
presumably offered the Administration a lesson in dealing with Diem (and 
perhaps, although it was not foreseen then, a lesson in dealing with Vietnamese 
governments generally). The negotiations dragged on and on; the U.S. military 
and eventually most of the civilians both in Saigon and Washington grew im- 
patient for getting on with the war; Diem promised action on some of the Amer- 
ican points, and finally even issued some decrees, none of which were really 
followed up. For practical purposes, the list of "essential reforms" proposed as 
part of the CIP, including those Diem had given the impression he agreed to, 
could have been substituted unchanged for the list of reforms the U.S. requested 
at the end of the year, with equal effect, as the quid pro quo demanded for the 
much enlarged U.S. aid offer that followed the Taylor Mission. 

Negotiations with Diem came to an end in May, not because the issues had 
been resolved, but because the U.S. decided to forget trying to pressure Diem 
for a while and instead try to coax him into reforming by winning his confi- 
dence. Partly, no doubt, this reflected the view that pressure was getting no- 
where and the alternative approach might do better. Mainly, however, the 
changed policy, and the somewhat enlarged aid program that accompanied it, 
reflected the pressures created by the situation in neighboring Laos. (We will 
see that there is a strong case to be made that even the Fall, post-Taylor Mis- 
sion, decisions were essentially dominated by the impact of Laos. But in May 

2 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

the situation was unambiguous. Laos, not anything happening in Vietnam, was 
the driving force.) 

A preliminary step came April 20. Immediately following the Bay of Pigs 
disaster, and with the prospect of a disaster in Laos on the very near horizon, 
Kennedy asked Deputy Secretary of Defense Gilpatric to work up a program 
for saving Vietnam. The program was delivered, as requested, a week later. It 
was a somewhat enlarged version of the CIP, with the implication, not spelled 
out in the paper, that the new effort would be put into effect without making 
any demands on Diem. (Simultaneously, Ambassador Durbow, who had been 
in Vietnam for four years, was being replaced by Nolting, and this added to 
the hope that a new start might be made with Diem.) There is nothing to sug- 
gest that anything more was expected of Gilpatric's program, and indeed all 
the evidence suggests that the main point of the exercise was to work General 
Lansdale into the role of government-wide coordinator and manager of the 
country's first major test in the new art of counter-insurgency. Lansdale served 
as Executive Officer of the Task Force which Gilpatric organized and which 
he proposed should be given a continuing, dominant role in managing the Viet- 
namese enterprise. 

By the time the report was submitted on April 27 when the Laos crisis was 
reaching its peak, a new Geneva conference had been agreed upon. But there 
were serious doubts that the pro-western side in Laos would be left with any- 
thing to negotiate about by the time the conference opened. Even the Un- 
favored settlement (a coalition government) represented a major, if prudent, 
retreat from the previous U.S. position taken during the closing months of the 
Eisenhower Administration.) So the situation in Laos was bad, if unavoidable; 
and it followed right on the heels of the Bay of Pigs, and at a time when the 
Soviets were threatening to move against Berlin. The emphasis of the Gilpatric 
Task Force shifted from shaping up the counter-insurgency aid program for 
Vietnam, to finding ways to demonstrate to the South Vietnamese (and others) 
that a further retreat in Laos would not foreshadow an imminent retreat in Viet- 

On April 28, an annex to the Task Force report proposed to counter the im- 
pact of Laos with U.S. support for an increase in South Vietnamese forces (the 
original report had proposed only more generous financial support for forces 
already planned under the CIP) and, further, a modest commitment of U.S. 
ground combat units in South Vietnam, with the nominal mission of establish- 
ing two training centers. On April 29, Kennedy endorsed the proposals of the 
original draft, but took no action on the far more significant proposals in the 
annex. On May 1, a revised Task Force draft came out, incorporating the Laos 
Annex proposals, and adding a recommendation that the U.S. make clear an 
intent to intervene in Vietnam to the extent needed to prevent a Viet Cong 
victory. At this point, practical control of the Task Force appears to have 
shifted out of Gilpatric's (and Defense's) hands to State (and, apparently, 
George Ball.) A State redraft of the report came out May 3, which eliminated 
the special role laid out for Lansdale, shifted the chairmanship of the continuing 
Task Force to State, and blurred, without wholly eliminating, the Defense- 
drafted recommendations for sending U.S. combat units to Vietnam and for 
public U.S. commitments to save South Vietnam from Communism. But even 
the State re-draft recommended consideration of stationing American troops in 
Vietnam, for missions not involving combat with the Viet Cong, and a bilateral 
U.S.-SVN security treaty. On May 4 and 5, still acting under the pressure of the 
Laos crisis, the Administration implied (through a statement by Senator Ful- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 3 

bright at the White House following a meeting with Kennedy, and at Kennedy's 
press conference the next day) that it was considering stationing American 
forces in Vietnam. On May 6, a final draft of the Task Force report came out, 
essentially following the State draft of May 3. On May 8, Kennedy signed a 
letter to Diem, to be delivered by Vice President Johnson the next week, which 
promised Diem strong U.S. support, but did not go beyond the program out- 
lined in the original Task Force report; it offered neither to finance expanded 
South Vietnamese forces, nor to station American troops in Vietnam. On May 
11, the recommendations of the final, essentially State-drafted, report were 
formalized. But by now, the hoped for cease-fire in Laos had come off. Vice 
President Johnson in Saigon on the 12th of May followed through on his in- 
structions to proclaim strong U.S. support for and confidence in Diem. When 
Diem talked of his worries about U.S. policy in Laos, Johnson, obviously acting 
on instructions, raised the possibility of stationing American troops in Vietnam 
or of a bilateral treaty. But Diem wanted neither at that time. Johnson's in- 
structions were not available to this study, so we do not know how he would 
have responded if Diem had asked for either troops or a treaty, although the 
language of the Task Force report implies he would only have indicated a U.S. 
willingness to talk about these things. With Johnson, came the new Ambassador, 
Fritz Nolting, whose principal instruction was to "get on Diem's wavelength" 
in contrast to the pressure tactics of his predecessor. 

A few weeks later, in June, Diem, responding to an invitation Kennedy had 
sent through Johnson, dispatched an aide to Washington with a letter outlining 
Saigon's "essential military needs." It asked for a large increase in U.S. support 
for Vietnamese forces (sufficient to raise ARVN strength from 170,000 to 
270,000 men), and also for the dispatch of "selected elements of the American 
Armed Forces", both to establish training centers for the Vietnamese and as a 
symbol of American commitment to Vietnam. The proposal, Diem said, had 
been worked out with the advice of MAAG Saigon, whose chief, along with 
the JCS and at least some civilian officials, strongly favored getting American 
troops into Vietnam. 

The question of increased support for Vietnamese forces was resolved through 
the use of the Staley Mission. This was normally a group of economic experts 
intended to work with a Vietnamese group on questions of economic policy. 
Particularly at issue was whether the Vietnamese could not be financing 
a larger share of their own defenses. But the economic proposals and programs, 
all of which turned out to be pretty general and fuzzy, comprised a less impor- 
tant part of the report than the discussion of Vietnamese military requirements. 
Here the study group reflected the instructions of the two governments. On the 
basis of the Staley Report, the U.S. agreed to support a further increase of 
30,000 in the RVNAF, but deferred a decision on the balance of the South 
Vietnamese request on the grounds that the question might not have to be faced 
since by the time the RVNAF reached 200,000 men, sometime late in 1962, the 
Viet Cong might already be on the run. The Staley Report also contained what 
by now had already become the usual sorts of nice words about the importance 
of social, political, and administrative reforms, which turned out to have the 
usual relevance to reality. The U.S. was still sticking to the May formula of try- 
ing to coax Diem to reform, instead of the equally unsuccessful January formula 
of trying to pressure him to reform. 

The other issue — the request for "elements of the American Armed Forces" 
— was left completely obscure. From the record available, we are not sure that 
Diem really wanted the troops then, or whether Kennedy really was willing to 

4 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

send them if they were wanted. All we know is that Diem included some lan- 
guage in his letter that made the request a little ambiguous, and that Washing- 
ton — either on the basis of clarification from Diem's aide who delivered the 
letter, or on its own initiative, or some combination of both — interpreted the 
letter as not asking for troops, and nothing came of the apparent request. 

A new, and much more serious sense of crisis developed in September. This 
time the problem was not directly Laos, but strong indications of moderate de- 
terioration of Diem's military position and very substantial deterioration of 
morale in Saigon. There was a sharp upswing in Viet Cong attacks in Septem- 
ber, including a spectacular raid on a province capital 55 miles from Saigon 
during which the province chief was publicly beheaded by the insurgents. At 
the end of September, Diem surprised Nolting by asking the U.S. for a U.S.- 
GVN defense treaty. By Diem's account the loss of morale in Saigon was due to 
worries about U.S. policy growing out of the Laos situation. Both U.S. officials 
in Washington and South Vietnamese other than those closest to Diem, though, 
put most of the blame on deterioration within South Vietnam, although the 
demoralizing effect of Viet Cong successes was unquestionably magnified by un- 
certainties about the U.S. commitment to Vietnam. In response, President 
Kennedy sent General Taylor and Walt Rostow, then both on the White House 
staff, to Vietnam, accompanied by some less prominent officials from State and 

What Taylor and Rostow reported was that Saigon faced a dual crisis of con- 
fidence, compounded out of doubts arising from Laos that the U.S. would stick by 
South Vietnam, and doubts arising from the Viet Cong successes that Diem's 
unpopular and inefficient regime could beat the Viet Cong anyway. The report 
said that a U.S. military commitment in Vietnam was needed to meet the first 
difficulty; and that the second could best be met by supplying a generous in- 
fusion of American personnel to all levels of the Vietnamese government and 
army, who could, it was hoped, instill the Vietnamese with the right kind of 
winning spirit, and reform the regime "from the bottom up" despite Diem's 
weaknesses. The report recommended the dispatch of helicopter companies 
and other forms of combat support, but without great emphasis on these units. 
Probably, although the record does not specifically say so, there was a general 
understanding that such units would be sent even before the report was sub- 
mitted, and that is why there is relatively little emphasis on the need for them. 

The crucial issue was what form the American military commitment had to 
take to be effective. Taylor, in an eyes only cable to the President, argued 
strongly for a task force in the delta, consisting mainly of army engineers to 
work where there had been a major flood. The delta was also where the VC 
were strongest, and Taylor warned the President that the force would have to 
conduct some combat operations and expect to take casualties. But Taylor 
argued that the balance of the program, less this task force, would be insuffi- 
cient, for we had to "convince Diem that we are willing to join him in a show- 
down with the Viet Cong . . ." 

We do not know what advice President Kennedy received from State: Soren- 
son claims all the President's advisors on Vietnam favored sending the ground 
force; but George Ball, at least, who may not have been part of the formal 'de- 
cision group, is widely reported to have opposed such a move; so did Galbraith, 
then Ambassador to India, who happened to be in Washington; and perhaps 
some others. From Defense, the President received a memo from McNamara 
for himself, Gilpatric, and the JCS, stating that they were "inclined to recom- 
mend" the Taylor program, but only on the understanding that it would be 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 5 

followed up with more troops as needed, and with a willingness to attack North 
Vietnam. (The JCS estimated that 40,000 American troops would be needed 
to "clean up" the Viet Cong.) The Taylor Mission Report, and Taylor's own 
cables, had also stressed a probable need to attack, or at least threaten to at- 
tack, North Vietnam. 

The McNamara memo was sent November 8. But on November 11, Rusk 
and McNamara signed a joint memo that reversed McNamara's earlier position: 
it recommended deferring, at least for the time being, the dispatch of combat 
units. This obviously suited Kennedy perfectly, and the NSAM embodying the 
decisions was taken essentially verbatim from the recommendations of the 
Rusk/McNamara paper, except that a recommendation that the U.S. was com- 
miting itself to prevent the loss of Vietnam was deleted. 

But where the Taylor Report had implied a continuation of the May policy 
of trying to coax Diem into cooperating with the U.S., the new program was 
made contingent on Diem's acceptance of a list of reforms; further Diem was to 
be informed that if he accepted the program the U.S. would expect to "share 
in decision-making" . . . rather than "advise only." Thus, the effect of the 
decision was to give Diem less than he was expecting (no symbolic commitment 
of ground forces) but to accompany this limited offer with demands for which 
Diem was obviously both unprepared and unwilling to accede to. On top of 
this, there was the enormous (and not always recognized) extent to which U.S. 
policy was driven by the unthinkability of avoidably risking another defeat in 
Southeast Asia hard on the heels of the Laos retreat. 

Consequently, the U.S. bargaining position was feeble. Further, Galbraith 
at least, and probably others, advised Kennedy that there was not much point 
to bargaining with Diem anyway, since he would never follow through on any 
promises he made. (Galbraith favored promoting an anti-Diem military coup 
at the earliest convienient moment.) Kennedy ended up settling for a set of 
promises that fell well short of any serious effort to make the aid program really 
contingent on reforms by Diem. Since the war soon thereafter began to look bet- 
ter, Kennedy never had any occasion to reconsider his decision on combat troops; 
and no urgent reason to consider Galbraith's advice on getting rid of Diem until 
late 1963. 

End of Summary and Analysis 

1960-1961 Situation in Vietnam 

According to Ambassador Durbrow there was widespread popular 
dissatisfaction with the Diem Government and a growing guerrilla 
threat. At the same time, there had been a very gradual growth of 
U.S. involvement in assisting the GVN to counter the VC. 
In the U.S. two questions influenced decisions about Vietnam: 
first, what should the U.S. give Diem to counter the communists; 
secondly, what — if any — demands should be posed as a quid pro 
quo for assistance? 

US-Soviet Relations 

The problems of dealing with Moscow were far more pressing 
than those related to Vietnam. A feeling that America's position 

6 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

in the world had been eroded by the USSR prevailed; Kennedy 
was particularly determined to regain American strength, prestige 
and influence. Anything which could be construed as American 
weakness vis-a-vis the USSR was to be avoided. This affected 
policy toward Vietnam. 

Situation in Laos 

The US-backed, pro-American faction under Phoumi Nosavan 
was losing to the pro-Communist/neutralist faction supported by 
the Soviet Union. 

Commitment of U.S. forces was rejected and on May 2, 1961 
a cease-fire was declared. President Kennedy decided to support 
a coalition solution, even though the odds on coalition leader 
Souvanna Phouma's staying in power were very low. As a con- 
sequence of this decision, Washington believed that Southeast 
Asian leaders doubted the sincerity of the U.S. commitment to 
the area, and the U.S. felt compelled to do something to restore 
confidence, demonstrate U.S. resolve and dispel any idea Moscow 
might have that the U.S. intended to withdraw from Southeast 
Asia. Laos was thus particularly influential in development of 
policy toward Vietnam. 

20 Jan 1961 President Kennedy Inaugurated 

28 Jan 1961 Kennedy Approves the Counterinsurgency Plan {CIP) for Vietnam 
Gradually developed during 1961, the CIP was to be the basis for 
expanded U.S. assistance to Vietnam. Kennedy automatically ap- 
proved its main provisions; negotiations with Diem about the 
CIP began 13 February and continued through May of 1961. 
The U.S. offered $28.4 million to support a 20,000-man increase 
in the ARVN (for a new total of 170,000); to train, equip and 
supply a 32,000-man Civil Guard at $12.7 million. The full pack- 
age added less than $42 million to the current $220 million aid 

The CIP called for consolidation of the RVNAF chain of com- 
mand (never fully accomplished under Diem.) No agreement was 
reached on the question of strategy during this period. (Diem 
wanted "strategic" outposts, Agrovilles, lines of strength through- 
out the country; the MA AG favored a "net and spear" concept — ■ 
small units operating out of pacified areas to find the enemy, call 
in reserve forces, gradually extend security to all of Vietnam.) 
Civil reforms included urging Diem to broaden his government, 
include opposition political leaders in the cabinet, give the National 
Assembly some power, institute civic action to win hearts, minds 
and loyalty of the peasants. 

The CIP assumed the GVN had the potential to cope with the 
VC if necessary corrective measures were taken and if adequate 
forces were provided. The implicit bargain of the plan: the U.S. 
would support "adequate forces" // Diem would institute "neces- 
sary corrective measures." Again, although sociopolitical reforms 
were sought through the CIP and other plans, they were not 
realized during the early Kennedy years. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 1 

Mid- J an 1961 A Lansdale Report on Vietnam 

Following a trip to Vietnam, Major General E. G. Lansdale called 
for strong support for Diem and recommended the U.S. demon- 
strate that support immediately. Only if Diem's confidence in the 
U.S. were restored would U.S. influence be effective, said Lansdale. 
He recommended the immediate transfer of Durbrow (he was 
"too close to the forest" and was not trusted by the GVN) and 
immediate adoption of social, economic, political and military 
programs to prove U.S. backing for Diem as well as help Diem 
stabilize the countryside. 

February- Durbrow Negotiations with Diem on the CIP 
May 1961 Diem stalled the implementation of his "major promises" (to 
establish a central intelligence organization, put operational con- 
trol for counterinsurgency operations under the military command 
system, reform the cabinet and governmental administration). 
Washington held up the "green light" on aid as long as Diem 
stalled — although the JCS and MAAG in Saigon were impatient 
to get on with the war and were annoyed by the delay. Finally, 
in mid-May (after Durbrow had ended his four-year tour in Viet- 
nam) Diem implemented some "major promises" by decree. But 
nothing changed. 

Rostow Memorandum for President Kennedy 
W. W. Rostow suggested several ways for "gearing-up the whole 
Vietnam operation." These included: assigning a first-rate, full- 
time backstop man in Washington to Vietnam affairs (Lansdale); 
a Vice Presidential visist in Southeast Asia; exploring ways to use 
new American techniques and gadgets in the fight against the VC; 
replacing the ICA (AID) chief; high-level discussion of tactics 
for persuading Diem to broaden his government; a Presidential 
letter to Diem in which Kennedy would reaffirm support for him 
but express the urgency attached to finding a "more effective 
political and morale setting" for military operations. 

The Presidential Program for Vietnam 

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gilpatric was directed to appraise 
the current status and future prospects of the VC drive in South 
Vietnam, then recommend a series of actions to prevent com- 
munist domination of the GVN. 

(At this same time: the Bay of Pigs invasion force surrendered 
and the Laos crisis was coming to a head.) 

Gilpatric and Lansdale headed a Task Force established imme- 
diately to carry out these instructions. 

Gilpatric Task Force Report Submitted; the NSC Meets 
This first Task Force draft called for a moderate acceleration of 
the CIP program approved in January, with stress on vigor, en- 
thusiasm and strong leadership. The report recommended building 
on present US-GVN programs, infusing them with a new sense of 
urgency and creating action programs in almost every field to 
create a viable and increasingly democratic government in SVN to 
prevent communist domination. No ARVN increase beyond the 
already-authorized 20,000-man addition was recommended; a 

12 Apr 1961 

20 Apr 1961 

27 Apr 1961 

8 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

modest MAAG increase was proposed. The US would support the 
Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps. Emphasis was on stabilizing 
the countryside, not on pressing Diem for political or administra- 
tive reforms. (Gilpatric wanted Lansdale to go to Vietnam imme- 
diately after the program was approved to consult with Vietnamese 
and US leaders and make further recommendations for action; 
but McNamara made Lansdale's mission contingent upon an in- 
vitation from the US Ambassador in Saigon — an invitation that 
never came.) 

The NSC was to discuss this report but the 27 April meeting was 
dominated by the acute Laotian crisis. 

28 Apr 1961 Laos Annex to (first) Task Force Report 

A report — a response, really — concerning the critical situation in 
Laos and its effect on Vietnam was prepared for the NSC on 28 
April. It recommended a tv/o-di vision ARVN increase and deploy- 
ment of 3600 US troops to Vietnam (two 1600-man teams to 
train each new division; 400 Special Forces troops to speed over- 
all ARVN counterinsurgency training). Rationale: to enable 
ARVN to guard against conventional invasion of South Vietnam. 
(Both the increased forces and their justification were different 
from two earlier reports. Lansdale had advocated no ARVN 
increase but felt some US force build-up was called for as a 
demonstration of American support for the GVN. Gilpatric's 
military aide, Colonel E. F. Black, wrote the other report which 
saw no need for more US troops but recommended expansion of 
ARVN to meet the threat of increased infiltration. These views 
were rejected in favor of Black's second paper which advocated 
more ARVN troops — to counter overt aggression, not increased 
infiltration — and commitment of US troops for training purposes 
— not for political reassurance or demonstration of US resolve. 
Black's second paper was sent to the NSC.) 

29 Apr 1961 Kennedy Decisions on the Draft Report 

Kennedy did not act on the Laos Annex. He approved only the 
limited military proposals contained in the first Gilpatric Task 
Force report. The 685-man MAAG would be increased to 785 
to enable it to train the approved 20,000 new ARVN troops. Ken- 
nedy also authorized the MAAG to support and advise the Self 
Defense Corps (40,000 men); authorized MAP support for the 
entire Civil Guard of 68,000 (vice 32,000 previously supported); 
ordered installation of radar surveillance equipment and okayed 
MAP support and training for the Vietnamese Junk Force. 

1 May 1961 NSC Meets; New Draft of the Task Force Report Issued 

Kennedy again deferred decision on sending troops into Laos 
apparently because the feeling that the US would not make such 
a move was now firm. 

The 1 May draft report was little different from the 28 April ver- 
sion. The Laos Annex was incorporated into the main paper; the 
US was to make known its readiness to "intervene unilaterally" 
in Southeast Asia to fulfill SEATO commitments (vice intervene 
in conjunction with SEATO forces). ARVN increases were now 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 9 

justified by the threat of overt aggression as well as increased in- 

3 May 1961 State (George Ball) Revision of Task Force Report 

This draft was very different from the original. Lansdale's role 
was eliminated; the Gilpatric-Lansdale Task Force was to be 
replaced by a new group chaired by Ball, then Undersecretary of 
State. (Lansdale reacted with a "strong recommendation" that 
Defense stay out of the directorship proposed by State and said 
the "US past performance and theory of action, which State 
apparently desires to continue, simply offers no sound basis for 
winning. . .") In State's rewritten political section of the report, 
the Defense recommendation to make clear US determination to 
intervene unilaterally if necessary to save South Vietnam from 
communism was replaced by a proposal to explore new bilateral 
treaty arrangements with Diem (arrangements which might mean 
intervention against the guerrillas but might mean intervention 
only against DRV attack). The need for new arrangements was 
tied to the "loss" of Laos. State incorporated unchanged the De- 
fense draft as the military section of its revised report, but im- 
plied "further study" would be given to some Defense recom- 
mendations. Overall, the State revision tried to tone down commit- 
ments to Vietnam suggested in the Defense version. It left the 
President a great deal of room to maneuver without explicitly over- 
ruling recommendations presented him. 

5 May 1961 NSC Meeting 

Again, Laos was the main subject. Most agreed the chance for 
salvaging anything out of the cease-fire and coalition government 
was slim indeed. Ways in which to reassure Vietnam and Thailand 
were sought. The Vice President's trip to Southeast Asia was an- 
nounced after the meeting. 

6 May 1961 Second State Re-Draft of the Task Force Report 

Here, military actions were contained in an annex; the political 
section reflected less panic over the loss of Laos; deployment of 
US troops was less definite — called something which "might result 
from an NSC decision following discussions between Vice Presi- 
dent Johnson and President Diem." The matter is being studied, 
said the draft. The report said: Diem "is not now fully confident 
of US support," that it is "essential (his) full confidence in and 
communication with the United States be restored promptly." 
(Lansdale's recommendations of January, April, etc.) The report 
called for a "major alteration in the present government struc- 
ture," "believed" a combination of inducements plus discreet 
pressures might work, but it was unenthusiastic both about Diem, 
and his chances of success. The Diem-is-the-only-available-leader 
syndrome is evident here. 

10 May 1961 JCSM 320-61 

"Assuming the political decision is to hold Southeast Asia outside 
the communist sphere," the JCS emphatically recommended de- 
ployment of sufficient US forces to provide a visible deterrent to 
potential DRV/CHICOM action, release ARVN from static to 
active counterinsurgency operations, assist training and indicate 

10 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. 11 

US firmness. (In JCSM 311-61 of 9 May, the Chiefs recom- 
mended deployment of US forces to Thailand also.) 

11 May 1961 NSAM 52 

Directed "full examination" by DOD of a study on the size and 
composition of forces which might comprise a possible commit- 
ment of troops to Southeast Asia. In effect, Kennedy "took note" 
of the study but made no decision on the issue of troop commit- 
ment. The Ambassador in Saigon was empowered to open negotia- 
tions about a bilateral treaty but was directed to make no com- 
mitments without further review by the President. These recom- 
mendations from the May 6 Task Force report were approved: 
help the GVN increase border patrol and counterinsurgency 
capability through aerial surveillance and new technological de- 
vices; help set up a center to test new weapons and techniques; 
help ARVN implement health, welfare and public work projects; 
deploy a 400-man special forces group to Nha Trang to accelerate 
ARVN training; instruct ICS, CINCPAC, MAAG to assess the 
military utility of an increase in ARVN from 170,000 to 200,000 
(the two-division increase recommended previously). 

9-15 May Vice President Johnson Visits Southeast Asia 

1961 Purpose: to reassure Asian leaders that despite Laos, the United 

States could be counted on to support them. Johnson reported the 
mission had halted the decline of confidence in the United States, 
but did not restore confidence already lost. Johnson strongly be- 
lieved that faith must be restored, the "battle against communism 
must be joined in Southeast Asia with strength and determination" 
(or the US would be reduced to a fortress America with defenses 
pulled back to California's shores); he believed there was no 
alternative to US leadership in Southeast Asia but that any help 
extended — military, economic, social — must be part of a mutual 
effort and contingent upon Asian willingness to "take the necessary 
measures to make our aid effective." He reported that American 
troops were neither required nor desired by Asian leaders at this 

Calling Thailand and Vietnam the most immediate, most im- 
mediate, most important trouble spots, the Vice President said the 
US "must decide whether to support Diem — or let Vietnam fall," 
opted for supporting Diem, said "the most important thing is 
imaginative, creative, American management of our military aid 
program," and reported $50 million in military and economic as- 
sistance "will be needed if we decide to support Vietnam." The 
same amount was recommended for Thailand. 
The Vice President concluded by posing this as the fundamental 
decision: "whether ... to meet the challenge of Communist 
expansion now in Southeast Asia or throw in the towel." Caution- 
ing that "heavy and continuing costs" would be required, that 
sometime the US "may be faced with the further decision of 
whether we commit major United States forces to the area or cut 
our losses and withdraw should our other efforts fail," Johnson 
recommended "we proceed with a clear-cut and strong program 
of action." 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 11 

18 May 1961 Lansdale Memorandum for Gilpatric 

Landsdale noted Diem's rejection of US combat forces per se at 
this time but pointed out Diem seemed willing to accept troops 
for training purposes only. At this same time, MAAG Chief 
McGarr requested 16,000 US troops (combat units) be sent, 
nominally to establish centers to train RVNAF divisions. If Diem 
would not accept 16,000, McGarr would settle for 10,000 men. 

5 June 1961 Rostow Note to McNamara 

Saying "we must think of the kind of forces for Thailand now, 
Vietnam later," Rostow suggested "aircraft, helicopters, com- 
munications, men, Special Forces, militia teachers, etc." would be 
needed to support a "counter-guerrilla war in Vietnam." Rostow 
does not mention combat units. 

9 June 1961 Diem Letter to Kennedy 

Here, in response to Vice President Johnson's request that he out- 
line military needs, Diem did request US troops explicitly for 
training RVNAF "officers and technical specialists" — not entire 
divisions. He proposed ARVN be increased from 170,000 to 
270,000 to "counter the ominous threat of communist domination" 
— a threat he documented by inflated infiltration figures and words 
about the "perilous" situation created by the Laos solution. To 
train these 100,000 new ARVN troops Diem asked for "consider- 
able expansion" of the MAAG in the form of "selected elements 
of the American Armed Forces." 

Mid- June to The Staley Mission 

July 1961 A team headed by Eugene Staley (Stanford Research Insitute) 
was to work with Vietnamese officials in an effort to resolve the 
continuing problem of how Vietnam was to finance its own war 
effort (deficit financing, inflation, the commodity import program, 
piaster/dollar exchange rates, all presented difficulties). But the 
Staley group became the vehicle for force level discussions and 
economic issues were treated rather perfunctorily. The group 
"does not consider itself competent to make specific recommenda- 
tions as to desired force levels" but adopted two alternative levels 
for "economic planning purposes": 200,000 if the insurgency in 
Vietnam remains at present levels, if Laos does not fall; 270,000 
if the Vietcong significantly increase the insurgency and if the 
communists win de facto control of Laos. 

11 Aug 1961 Kennedy Decision NSAM 65 

President Kennedy agreed with the Staley Report (of 4 August) 
that security requirements demanded first priority, that economic 
and social programs had to be accelerated, that it was in the US 
interest to promote a viable Vietnam. He agreed to support an 
ARVN increase to 200,000 if Diem in turn agreed to a plan for 
using these forces. The 270,000 level was thus disapproved. But 
the plan for using ARVN forces had not yet been drawn. Diem had 
not yet designed — much less implemented — social reforms sup- 
posedly required in return for US assistance. 

15 Aug 1961 

NIE 14-3/53.61 

Although collapse of the Saigon regime might come by a coup or 

12 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

from Diem's death, its fall because of a "prolonged and difficult" 
struggle was not predicted. 

Theodore White Reports 

'The situation gets worse almost week by week . . ." particularly 
the military situation in the delta. If the U.S. decides it must inter- 
vene, White asked if we had the people, instruments or clear ob- 
jectives to make it successful. 

General McGarr Reports 

The ARVN has displayed increased efficiency, a spirit of renewed 
confidence is "beginning to permeate the people, the GVN and 
the Armed Forces." 

27 Sep 1961 Nolting Reports 

Nolting was "unable report . . . progress toward attaining task 
force goals of creating viable and increasingly democratic society," 
called the government and civil situation unchanged from early 
September. A series of large scale VC attacks in central Vietnam, 
the day-long VC seizure of Phuoc Vinh, capital of [former] Phuoc 
Thanh Province — 55 miles from Saigon — in which the VC pub- 
licly beheaded Diem's province chief and escaped before govern- 
ment troops arrived and increased infiltration through Laos dem- 
onstrated "that the tide has not yet turned" militarily. 

1 Oct 1961 Diem Request 

Diem requested a bilateral treaty with the U.S. This surprised 
Nolting but probably did not surprise the White House, already 
warned by White of the grave military situation. 

1 Oct 1961 State <( First 12-Month Report" 

This political assessment mirrored Nolting's "no progress" report 
but State found the military situation more serious than Embassy 
reports had indicated. 

5 Oct 1961 The "Rostow Proposal" 

Suggested a 25,000-man SEATO force be put into Vietnam to 
guard the Vietnam/Laos border between the DMZ and Cambodia. 
(The Pathet Lao had gained during September, as had VC infiltra- 
tion through Laos to the GVN. This prompted plans for U.S. 

9 Oct 1961 JCSM 717-61 

The JCS rejected the Rostow proposal: forces would be stretched 
thin, they could not stop infiltration, and would be at the worst 
place to oppose potential DRV/CHICOM invasion. The Chiefs 
wanted to make a "concentrated effort in Laos where a firm stand 
can be taken saving all or substantially all of Laos which would, 
at the same time, protect Thailand and protect the borders of 
South Vietnam." But if this were "politically unacceptable" the 
Chiefs "provided ... a possible limited interim course of action" : 
deployment of about 20,000 troops to the central highlands near 
Pleiku to assist the GVN and free certain GVN forces for of- 
fensive action against the VC. 

Late Aug 

1 Sep 1961 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 13 

10 Oct 1961 "Concept of Intervention in Vietnam'' 

Drafted by Alexis Johnson, the paper blended Rostow's border 
control proposal with the JCS win-control-of-the-highlands counter- 
proposal for the initial mission of U.S. forces in Vietnam. "The 
real and ultimate objective" of U.S. troops was also addressed. 
To defeat the Vietcong and render Vietnam secure under a non- 
Communist government, Johnson "guessed" three divisions would 
be the ultimate force required in support of the "real objective." 
The paper estimated a satisfactory settlement in Laos would reduce 
but not eliminate infiltration into South Vietnam, that even if 
infiltration were cut down, there was no assurance that the GVN 
could "in the foreseeable future be able to defeat the Viet Cong." 
Unilateral U.S. action would probably be necessary. The plan's 
viability was dependent on the degree in which the GVN acceler- 
ated "political and military action in its own defense." 

11 Oct 1961 NSC Meeting on Vietnam 

The NSC considered four papers: the Alexis Johnson draft; an 
NIE estimate that SEATO action would be opposed by the DRV, 
Viet Cong and the Soviet Union (airlift), that these forces stood 
a good chance of thwarting the SEATO intervention; third, a JCS 
estimate that 40,000 U.S. troops would be required to "clean up 
the Viet Cong threat" and another 128,000 men would be needed 
to oppose DRV CHICOM intervention (draining 3 to 4 reserve 
divisions). Finally, a memorandum from William Bundy to Mc- 
Namara which said "it is really now or never if we are to arrest the 
gains being made by the Viet Cong," and gave "an early and hard- 
hitting operation" a 70 percent chance of doing that. Bundy added, 
the chance of cleaning up the situation "depends on Diem's effec- 
tiveness, which is very problematical," favored going in with 70-30 
odds but figured the odds would slide down if the U.S. "let, say, 
a month go by" before moving. 

13 Oct 1961 Saigon Message 488 

Reversing his previous position, Diem requested an additional 
fighter-bomber squadron, civilian pilots for helicopters and C-47 
transports and U.S. combat units for a "combat-training" mission 
near the DMZ, possibly also in the highlands. He asked considera- 
tion be given a possible request for a division of Chiang Kai-shek's 
troops to support the GVN. Nolting recommended "serious and 
prompt" attention for the requests. 

14 Oct 1961 New York Times 

In an article leaked by the government — perhaps by Kennedy 
himself — leaders were called reluctant to send U.S. combat units 
into Southeast Asia. Obviously untrue, the leak was probably 
designed to end speculation about troop deployment and guard 
Kennedy's freedom of action. 

20 Oct 1 961 C1NCPA C Recommendation 

Admiral Felt felt the pros and cons of U.S. troop deployment 
added up in favor of no deployment until other means of helping 
Diem had been exhausted. 

14 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

Taylor Mission to Vietnam 

On the 18th, Diem said he wanted no U.S. combat troops for any 
mission. He repeated his request for a bilateral defense treaty, 
more support for ARVN and combat-support equipment (heli- 
copters, aircraft, etc.). 

23 Oct 1961 Ch MA AG Message 

General McGarr suggested that the serious Mekong River flood 
could provide a cover for U.S. troop deployment: combat units 
could be disguised as humanitarian relief forces and be dispatched 
to the delta. 

25 Oct 1961 Saigon Message 536 

Taylor reported the pervasive crisis of confidence and serious loss 
in Vietnamese national morale created by Laos and the flood, 
weakened the war effort. To cope with this Taylor recommended: 
Improvement of intelligence on the VC; building ARVN mobility; 
blocking infiltration into the highlands by organizing a border 
ranger force; introduction of U.S. forces either for emergency, 
short-term assistance, or for more substantial, long-term support 
(a flood relief plus military reserve task force). Diem had reacted 
favorably "on all points." 

1 Nov 1961 BAGUIO Message 0005 

Taylor told the President, Rusk and McNamara "we should put 
in a task force (6-8,000 men) consisting largely of logistical troops 
for the purpose of participating in flood relief and at the same time 
of providing a U.S. military presence in Vietnam capable of as- 
suring Diem of our readiness to join him in a military showdown 
with the Viet Cong . . ." 


Taylor concluded that the communist strategy of taking over 
Southeast Asia by guerrilla warfare was "well on the way to suc- 
cess in Vietnam"; he said the GVN was caught in "interlocking 
circles" of bad tactics and bad administrative arrangements which 
allow VC gains and invite a political crisis. He recommended 
more U.S. support for paramilitary groups and ARVN mobility; 
the MAAG should be reorganized and increased and the task force 
introduced to "conduct such combat operations as are necessary 
for self-defense and for the security of the area in which (it) is 
stationed," among other things. Taylor felt the disadvantages of 
deployment were outweighted by gains, said SVN is "not an ex- 
cessively difficult or unpleasant place to operate" and the "risks of 
backing into a major Asian war by way of SVN" are not impres- 
sive: North Vietnam "is extremely vulnerable to conventional 
bombing . . . there is no case for fearing a mass onslaught of 
communist manpower . . . particularly if our air power is al- 
lowed a free hand against logistical targets . . ." 

3 Nov 1961 Taylor Report 

The "Evaluation and Summary" section suggested urgency and 
optimism: SVN is in trouble, major U.S. interests are at stake; 
prompt and energetic U.S. action — military, economic, political — 

18-24 Oct 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 15 

can lead to victory without a U.S. take-over of the war, can cure 
weaknesses in the Diem regime. That the Vietnamese must win the 
war was a unanimous view — but most mission participants be- 
lieved all Vietnamese operations could be substantially improved 
by America's "limited partnership" with the GVN. The GVN is 
cast in the best possible light; any suggestion that the U.S. should 
limit rather than expand its commitment — or face the need to enter 
the battle in full force at this time — is avoided. Underlying the 
summary was the notion that "graduated measures on the DRV 
(applied) with weapons of our own choosing" could reverse any 
adverse trend in the South. And ground troops were always pos- 
sible. The Taylor Report recommended the U.S. make obvious its 
readiness to act, develop reserve strength in the U.S "to cover 
action in Southeast Asia up to the nuclear threshold in that area" 
and thereby sober the enemy and discourage escalation. However, 
bombing was a more likely Vietnam contingency than was use of 
ground troops; the latter option was tied to a U.S. response to 
renewed fighting in Laos and/or overt invasion of South Vietnam. 
But Taylor suggested troops be sent to Diem; the Taylor Report 
and cables recommend combat troop deployment to Vietnam. (A 
message from Nolting summarizing the Diem-Taylor meeting on 
which the recommendations apparently rest [Saigon message 541, 
25 Oct 61] does not indicate any enthusiasm on Diem's part to 
deployment of troops, however. He hinted U.S. troops for training 
might be requested, then dropped the subject.) 
Appendices to the Taylor Report written by members of the group 
give a slightly different picture. There is less optimism about the 
GVN's chances of success, less optimism about chances of U.S 
action — political or military — tipping the balance. For example: 
William Jordan (State) said almost all Vietnamese interviewed 
had emphasized the gravity of the situation, growing VC successes 
and loss of confidence in Diem. The ARVN lacked aggressiveness, 
was devoid of any sense of urgency, short of able leaders. Sterling 
Cottrell (State) said: It is an open question whether the GVN 
can succeed even with U.S. assistance. Thus it would be a mistake 
to make an irrevocable U.S. commitment to defeat communists in 
South Vietnam. Foreign military forces cannot win the battle at 
the village level — where it must be joined; the primary responsibil- 
ity for saving Vietnam must rest with the GVN. For these reasons 
Cottrell argued against a treaty which would either shift ultimate 
responsibility to the U.S. or engage a full U.S. commitment to 
defeat the Vietcong. 

5 Nov 1961 SN1E 10-4-61 

This estimated the DRV would respond to an increased U.S 
troop commitment by increasing support to the Vietcong. If U.S. 
commitment to the GVN grew, so would DRV support to the VC. 
Four possible U.S. courses were given: airlift plus more help for 
ARVN; deployment of 8-10,000 troops as a flood relief task force; 
deployment of 25-40,000 combat troops; with each course, warn 
Hanoi of U.S. determination to hold SVN and U.S. intention to 
bomb the DRV if its support for the VC did not cease. The SNIE 

16 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

estimated air attacks against the North would not cause its VC 
support to stop and figured Moscow and Peking would react 
strongly to air attacks. 

8 Nov 1961 McNamara Memorandum for the President 

Secretary McNamara, Gilpatric and the JCS were "inclined to 
recommend that we do commit the U.S. to the clear objective of 
preventing the fall of South Vietnam to communism and that we 
support this commitment by the necessary military actions." The 
memorandum said the fall of Vietnam would create "extremely 
serious" strategic implications worldwide, that chances were "prob- 
ably sharply against" preventing that fall without a U.S. troop 
commitment but that even with major-troop deployment (205,000 
was the maximum number of ground forces estimated necessary 
to deal with a large overt invasion from the DRV and/or China) 
the U.S. would still be at the mercy of external forces — Diem, 
Laos, domestic political problems, etc. — and thus success could 
not be guaranteed. McNamara recommended against deployment 
of a task force (the 8,000-man group mentioned in the Taylor 
Report) "unless we are willing to make an affirmative decision" 
to fully support a commiment to save South Vietnam. 

11 Nov 1961 Rusk/ McNamara Memorandum for the President 

This may have been prepared at Kennedy's specific instruction; 
it recommended what Kennedy wanted to hear: that the decision 
to commit major ground forces could be deferred. In this paper, 
rhetoric is escalated from that of McNamara's 8 November memo- 
randum but U.S. actions recommended are far less significant, less 
committing. Military courses are divided into two phrases: first, 
promptly deploy support troops and equipment (helicopters, trans- 
port aircraft, maritime equipment and trainers, special intelligence 
and air reconnaissance groups, other men and materiel to improve 
training, logistics, economic and other assistance programs). Then 
study and possibly deploy major ground combat forces at a later 
date. Despite the clear warning that even deployment of major U.S. 
units could not assure success against communism, the memo- 
randum's initial recommendation was that the U.S. "commit itself 
to the clear objective of preventing the fall of South Vietnam to 
Communism," be prepared to send troops and to "strike at the 
source of aggression in North Vietnam." A number of diplomatic 
moves (in the U.N., in NATO and SEATO councils, etc.) are 
suggested to signal U.S. determination; economic, social and other 
programs designed to help South Vietnam are suggested; ways to 
elicit improvements from Diem are recommended. 

14 Nov 1961 DEPTEL 619 to Saigon 

This was Nolting's guidance, based on the Rusk/McNamara mem- 
orandum. Nolting was told the anti-guerrilla effort "must essen- 
tially be a GVN task . . . No amount of extra aid can be sub- 
stituted for GVN taking measures to permit [it] to assume offensive 
and strengthen the administrative and political bases of government 
. . . Do not propose to introduce into GVN the U.S. combat 
troops now but propose a phase of intense public and diplomatic 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 17 

activity to focus on infiltration from North. Shall decide later 
on course of action should infiltration not be radically reduced." 
Diem's taking necessary measures — political, military, economic 
— to improve his government and relations with the people were 
a prerequisite to further U.S. assistance: "Package should be 
presented as first steps in a partnership in which the U.S. is pre- 
pared to do more as joint study of facts and GVN performance 
makes increased U.S. aid possible and productive." Strictly for 
his own information, Nolting was told Defense was "preparing 
plans for the use of U.S. combat forces in SVN under various 
contingencies, including stepped up infiltration as well as organized 
. . . (military) intervention. However, objective of our policy 
is to do all possible to accomplish purpose without use of U.S. 
combat forces." And, Nolting was to tell Diem: "We would expect 
to share in the decision-making process in the political, economic 
and military fields as they affect the security situation." 

22 Nov 1961 NSAM 111 

Called the "First Phase of Vietnam Program" this NSAM approved 
all Rusk/McNamara recommendations of 11 November except 
the first one: their initial recommendation that the U.S. commit 
itself to saving South Vietnam was omitted. 

7 Dec 1961 Alexis Johnson/Rostow Redraft ("Clarification") of Nolting's 
14 November Guidance 

"What we have in mind is that in operations directly related to the 
security situation, partnership will be so close that one party will 
not take decisions or actions affecting the other without full and 
frank prior consultation." This is different from the idea that 
American involvement should be so intimate that the GVN would 
be reformed "from the bottom up" — despite Diem. 
(Although Washington gave in — or gave up — on the kind and 
degree of pressure to exert on Diem, Washington did not soften 
on Lansdale. Despite four requests from Diem and the recom- 
mendations from Cottrell, the Taylor Report and William Bundy 
that Lansdale be sent to Saigon, he did not get there until late 

11 Dec 1961 New York Times 

Two U.S. helicopter companies (33 H-21Cs, 400 men) arrived 
in Vietnam, the first direct U.S. military support for the GVN. 
ICC reaction: shall we continue functioning here in the face of 
U.S. assistance (increase barred by the Geneva Accords)? 

15 Dec 1961 New York Times 

Reported the formal exchange of letters between Kennedy and 
Diem announcing a stepped-up aid program for Vietnam. 



In the summer of 1959, it was hard to find an American official worried 
about Vietnam. This was not because things were going well. They were not. 

18 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V 'ol. 11 

A National Intelligence Estimate published in August portrayed Diem as un- 
popular, his economy as developing less rapidly than its rival in the North, and 
his government under pressure from guerrillas encouraged and in part sup- 
ported from the North. Nevertheless, the NIE suggested no crisis then or for 
the foreseeable future. What the NIE called "harassment" (i.e., support for 
the VC) from the North would continue, but overt invasion seemed most un- 
likely. Neither communist nor anti-communist enemies within South Vietnam 
were seen as an immediate threat. Diem would remain as President, said the 
NIE, "for many years." In sum, the NIE saw the situation in Vietnam as un- 
happy, but not unstable. That was to be about as close to good news as we 
would hear from South Vietnam for a long time. 

From then on, the classified record through the end of 1961 shows a succes- 
sion of bleak appraisals of the regime's support in the cities, and among the 
military, almost always accompanied by increasingly bleak estimates of in- 
creased VC strength and activity in the countryside. A dispatch from our Em- 
bassy in Saigon in March, 1960, described the situation in grave terms, but ended 
on the hopeful note that as of January Diem was recognizing his problems and 
promising to do something about them. In August, an NIE analysis reported a 
"marked deterioration since January." In November, a military coup barely 
failed to overthrow Diem. 

In January, 1961 an old counterinsurgency hand, General Edward Lans- 
dale, went to Vietnam to look things over for the Secretary of Defense. He 
returned with a report that "the Viet Cong hope to win back Vietnam south 
of the 17th parallel this year, if at all possible, and are much further along to- 
wards accomplishing this goal than I had realized from reading the reports re- 
ceived in Washington." 

Nevertheless, the situation was never seen as nearly so grave as these re- 
ports, read years later, might suggest. We will see that at least up until the fall 
of 1961, while appraisals of the situation sometimes suggested imminent 
crisis, the recommendations made to the President (by the authors of these 
frightening appraisals) always implied a less pessimistic view. 

The top levels of the Kennedy Administration dealt only intermittently with 
the problem of Vietnam during 1961. There was a flurry of activity in late 
April and early May, which we will see was essentially an offshoot of the Laos 
crisis which had come to a head at that time. A much more thorough review 
was undertaken in the fall, following General Taylor's mission to Saigon, which 
then led to an important expansion of the American effort in Vietnam. 

No fundamental new American decisions on Vietnam were made until the 
Buddhist unrest in the last half of 1963, and no major new military decisions 
were made until 1965. Consequently, the decisions in the fall of 1961 (essen- 
tially, to provide combat support — for example, helicopter companies — but to 
defer any decision on direct combat troops) have come to seem very important. 
This paper tries to describe what led up to those decisions, what alternatives 
were available and what the implications of the choices were. 

The story is a fairly complicated one. For although it is hard to recall that 
context today, Vietnam in 1961 was a peripheral crisis. Even within Southeast 
Asia it received far less of the Administration's and the world's attention than 
did Laos. The New York Times Index for 1961 has eight columns of Vietnam, 
twenty-six on Laos. Decisions about Vietnam were greatly influenced bv what 
was happening elsewhere. In the narrow Vietnamese context, the weaknesses 
and peculiarities of the Diem government had a substantial, if not always ob- 
vious, impact on the behavior of both the Vietnamese officials seeking Ameri- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 19 

can aid and the American decision-makers pondering the nature and terms of 
the aid they would offer. 

As it happens, the Eisenhower Administration was never faced with a need 
for high-level decisions affecting the crisis developing in Vietnam during 1960. 
A formal Counterinsurgency Plan, intended to be the basis of an expanded 
program of assistance to Vietnam, was being worked on through most of that 
year, but (presumably reflecting a subdued sense of urgency), it took eight 
months to reach the White House. By that time, a new Administration had 
just taken office. President Kennedy promptly approved the plan, but this 
merely set off lengthy negotiations with the Vietnamese about whether and 
when they would do their share of the CIP. In April, though, a crisis atmos- 
phere developed, not because of anything fresh out of Vietnam, but because 
of a need to shore up the Vietnamese and others in Southeast Asia in the face 
of a likely collapse of the U.S. position in Laos. This led to a U.S. offer to dis- 
cuss putting American troops into Vietnam, or perhaps negotiate a bilateral 
security treaty with the Vietnamese. When, however, Vice President Johnson 
mentioned the possibility of troops to Diem in May, Diem said he wanted no 
troops yet. The idea of a bilateral treaty similarly slipped out of sight. Conse- 
quently, although the United States had itself indicated a willingness in May 
to discuss a deeper commitment, the South Vietnamese did not take up the 
opportunity, and the Administration had no occasion to face up to really hard 

But by October, the situation in Vietnam had worsened. The VC were be- 
coming disturbingly aggressive. Now, Diem did raise the question of a treaty. 
This request, coming after the American offer in May to consider such steps 
and in the context of a worsening situation in Vietnam, could hardly be ignored. 
The Taylor Mission and the Presidential review and decisions of November 

The present paper is organized around these natural climaxes in the policy 
process. The balance of Part I describes the situation inherited by the new Ad- 
ministration. Part II covers the period through the May peak. Part III covers 
the fall crisis. 


In January, 1961, there were five issues that were going to affect American 
policy toward Vietnam. They turned on: 

1. The VC Insurgency Itself 

An illustration of the growth of the insurgency, but also of the limits of 
U.S. concern can be seen in the 1960 CINCPAC Command History. For sev- 
eral years prior to 1960, CINCPAC histories do not mention the VC insurgency 
at all. In 1960, the development of a counterinsurgency plan for Vietnam (and 
simultaneously one for Laos) received a fair amount of attention. But when, 
in April, MAAG in Saigon asked for additional transports and helicopters for 
the counterinsurgency effort, CINCPAC turned down the requests for trans- 
ports, and OSD overruled the recommendation CINCPAC forwarded for 6 
helicopters. By December, OSD was willing to approve sending 11 helicopters 
(of 16 newly requested) on an "emergency" basis. But the emergency was 
partly a matter of reassuring Diem after the November coup, and the degree of 
emergency is suggested by the rate of delivery: 4 in December, and the bal- 
ance over the next three months. 

20 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

The record, in general, indicates a level of concern such as that illustrated by 
the helicopter decisions: growing gradually through 1960, but still pretty much 
of a back-burner issue so far as the attention and sense of urgency it com- 
manded among policy-level officials. As we will see, the new Kennedy Adminis- 
tration gave it more attention, as the Eisenhower Administration undoubtedly 
would have had it remained in office. But it is important (though hard, now 
that Vietnam has loomed so large) to keep in mind how secondary an issue the 
VC threat to Vietnam seemed to be in early 1961 . 

2. Problems with the Diem Government 

Yet, although the VC gains were not seen — even in the dispatches from 
Saigon — as serious enough to threaten the immediate collapse of the Diem 
government, those gains did have the effect of raising difficult questions about 
our relations with Diem that we had never had to face before. For by late 1960, 
it was a quite widely held view that the Diem government was probably going 
to be overthrown sooner or later, barring major changes from within. In con- 
trast to the May 1959 NIE's confident statement that Diem "almost certainly" 
would remain president "for many years," we find the August 1960 NIE pre- 
dicting that the recent "adverse trends," if continued, would "almost certainly 
in time cause the collapse of Diem's regime." 

The simple, unhappy fact was that whatever his triumphs in 1955 and 1956, 
by the end of the 1950s the feeling was growing that the best thing that could 
be said for Diem was that he was holding the country together and keeping it 
from succumbing to the communists. Once even this came into doubt, talk 
among Vietnamese and eventually among Americans of whether it might be 
better to look for alternative leadership became inevitable. 

The sense of trouble shows through even among the optimists. We find Ken- 
neth Young, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand and a strong believer in Diem, 
warning him in October, 1960 that "there seems to be somewhat of a crisis 
of confidence in Vietnam." 

But the long list of measures Young suggested were all tactical in nature, and 
required no basic changes in the regime. 

Our Ambassador in Saigon (Eldridge Durbrow) was more pessimistic: 

. . . situation in Viet-Nam [December, 1960] is highly dangerous to US 
interests. Communists are engaged in large-scale guerrilla effort to take 
over countryside and oust Diem's Government. Their activities have 
steadily increased in intensity throughout this year. In addition, Diem is 
faced with widespread popular dissatisfaction with his government's in- 
ability to stem the communist tide and its own heavy-handed methods of 
operation. It seems clear that if he is to remain in power he must meet 
these two challenges by improvements in his methods of conducting war 
against communists and in vigorous action to build greater popular sup- 
port. We should help and encourage him to take effective action. Should 
he not do so, we may well be forced, in not too distant future, to under- 
take difficult task of identifying and supporting alternate leadership. 

But the difficulties (and risks) of that task looked forbidding. During the 
November, 1960 coup attempt the U.S. had apparently used its influence to get 
the coup leaders to negotiate with Diem for reforms, allowing Diem to retain 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 21 

his position with reduced powers. Whether because of their own indecision or 
U.S. pressure, the coup leaders allowed a delay that let Diem bring loyalist 
troops in to regain control. (Three years later, a leader of the November, 1963 
coup "somewhat emphatically" told an American agent that "it would do no 
good to send anyone around to attempt to stop things, as happened in No- 
vember, I960.") 

The situation that was left — with a number of American officials unhappy 
with Diem and doubtful that he was capable of winning the war, yet unwilling 
to risk a coup — produced strains within the American government. Short of 
encouraging a coup, we seemed to have two alternatives: attempt to pressure 
Diem or attempt to so win his confidence that he would accept our advice will- 
ingly. The only effective form of U.S. pressure, however, was to withhold aid, 
and doing so would sooner or later weaken the war effort. 

Consequently a division developed, mainly (but not purely) along the lines 
of Defense against State, about the advisability of using pressure. The division 
was particularly sharp since Diem seemed willing to go part way, at least, in 
meeting our military suggestions, so that the Defense view tended to be that the 
U.S. would be weakening the war effort if aid were withheld to seek to gain 
civil reforms that not many people in Defense regarded as crucial. Besides, it 
was argued, Diem would not succumb to pressure anyway. We would just en- 
courage another coup, and the communists would exploit it. 

Given this sort of argument, there would always (at least through 1961) be 
at least two layers to decisions about aid to Vietnam: What should the U.S. be 
willing to give? and What, if any, demands should be made on Diem in return 
for the aid? 

3. Problems with the Soviets 

But from Washington, both problems within Vietnam — how to deal with 
the Viet Cong, and how to deal with Diem — seemed quite inconsequential 
compared to the problems of dealing with the Soviets. There were two elements 
to the Soviet problem. The first, which only indirectly affected Vietnam, was 
the generally aggressive and confident posture of the Russians at that time, and 
the generally defensive position of the Americans. To use W.W. Rostow's termi- 
nology, the Soviets were then entering the third year of their "post-sputnik" 
offensive, and their aggressiveness would continue through the Cuban missile 
crisis. On the U.S. side there was dismay even among Republicans (openly, for 
example, by Rockefeller; necessarily subdued by Nixon, but reported by any 
number of journalists on the basis of private conversations) at what seemed to 
be an erosion of the American position in the world. The Coolidge Commission, 
appointed by the President, warned him in January, 1960, to, among other 
steps, "close the missile gap" and generally strengthen our defenses. Kennedy, 
of course, made erosion of our position in the world a major campaign issue. 
All of this made 1961 a peculiarly difficult year for Americans to make con- 
cessions, or give ground to the Soviets when it could be avoided, or even post- 
poned. That was clear in January, and everything thereafter that was, or could 
be interpreted to be a weak U.S. response, only strengthened the pressure to 
hold on in Vietnam. 

A further element of the Soviet problem impinged directly on Vietnam. The 
new Administration, even before taking office, was inclined to believe that un- 
conventional warfare was likely to be terrifically important in the 1960s. In 
January 1961, Krushchev seconded that view with his speech pledging Soviet 

22 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 11 

support to "wars of national liberation." Vietnam was where such a war was 
actually going on. Indeed, since the war in Laos had moved far beyond the in- 
surgency stage, Vietnam was the only place in the world where the Administra- 
tion faced a well-developed Communist effort to topple a pro-Western govern- 
ment with an externally-aided pro-communist insurgency. It was a challenge 
that could hardly be ignored. 

4. The Situation in Laos 

Meanwhile, within Southeast Asia itself there was the peculiar problem of 
Laos, where the Western position was in the process of falling apart as Ken- 
nedy took office. The Eisenhower Administration had been giving strong sup- 
port to a pro-American faction in Laos. As a consequence, the neutralist faction 
had joined in an alliance with the pro-communist faction. The Soviets were 
sending aid to the neutralist/communist alliance, which they recognized as the 
legitimate government in Laos; the U.S. recognized and aided the pro-western 
faction. Unfortunately, it turned out that the neutralist/communist forces were 
far more effective than those favored by the U.S., and so it became clear 
that only by putting an American army into Laos could the pro-Western fac- 
tion be kept in power. Indeed, it was doubtful that even a coalition govern- 
ment headed by the neutralists (the choice the U.S. adopted) could be salvaged. 
The coalition government solution would raise problems for other countries in 
Southeast Asia: there would be doubts about U.S. commitments in that part 
of the world, and (since it was obvious that the communist forces would be left 
with de facto control of eastern Laos), the settlement would create direct se- 
curity threats for Thailand and Vietnam. These problems would accompany a 
"good" outcome in Laos (the coalition government); if the Pathet Lao chose 
to simply overrun the country outright (as, short of direct American interven- 
tion, they had the power to do), the problem elsewhere in Southeast Asia would 
be so much the worse. Consequently, throughout 1961, we find the effects of 
the Laos situation spilling over onto Vietnam. 

5. The Special American Commitment to Vietnam 

Finally, in this review of factors that would affect policy-making on Viet- 
nam, we must note that South Vietnam, (unlike any of the other countries in 
Southeast Asia) was essentially the creation of the United States. 

Without U.S. support Diem almost certainly could not have consolidated his 
hold on the South during 1955 and 1956. 

Without the threat of U.S. intervention, South Vietnam could not have re- 
fused to even discuss the elections called for in 1956 under the Geneva settle- 
ment without being immediately overrun by the Viet Minh armies. 

Without U.S. aid in the years following, the Diem regime certainly, and an 
independent South Vietnam almost as certainly, could not have survived. 

Further, from 1954 on there had been repeated statements of U.S. sup- 
port for South Vietnam of a sort that we would not find in our dealings with 
other countries in this part of the world. It is true there was nothing unqualified 
about this support: it was always economic, and occasionally accompanied by 
statements suggesting that the Diem regime had incurred an obligation to 
undertake reforms in return for our assistance. But then, until 1961, there 
was no occasion to consider any assistance that went beyond economic support 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 23 

and the usual sort of military equipment and advice, and no suggestion that 
our continued support was in doubt. 

Consequently, the U.S. had gradually developed a special commitment in 
South Vietnam. It was certainly not absolutely binding, even at the level of as- 
sistance existing at the start of 1961, much less at any higher level the South 
Vietnamese might come to need or request. But the commitment was there; to 
let it slip would be awkward, at the least. Whether it really had any impact on 
later decisions is hard to say. Given the other factors already discussed, it is not 
hard to believe that in its absence, U.S. policy might have followed exactly the 
same course it has followed. On the other hand, in the absence of a pre-existing 
special relation with South Vietnam, the U.S. in 1961 possibly would have at 
least considered a coalition government for Vietnam as well as Laos, and 
chosen to limit direct U.S. involvement to Thailand and other countries in the 
area historically independent of both Hanoi and Peking. But that is the mootest 
sort of question. For if there had been no pre-existing commitment to South 
Vietnam in 1961, there would not have been a South Vietnam to worry about 


Looking over the context we have been reviewing, it seems like a situation in 
which mistakes would be easy to make. The Viet Cong threat was serious 
enough to demand action; but not serious enough to compete with other 
crises and problems for the attention of senior decision-makers. A sound de- 
cision on tactics and levels of commitment to deal with the Viet Cong involved 
as much a judgment on the internal politics of non-communists in Vietnam as 
it did a judgment of the guerrillas' strength, and character, and relation with 
Hanoi. (Even a judgement that the war could be treated as a strictly military 
problem after all, involved at least an implicit judgement, and a controversial 
one, about Vietnamese politics.) Even if Diem looked not worth supporting it 
would be painful to make a decision to let him sink, and especially so in the 
world context of 1961. Faced with a challenge to deal with wars of national 
liberation, it would be hard to decide that the first one we happened to meet 
was "not our style." And after the U.S. stepped back in Laos, it might be hard 
to persuade the Russians that we intended to stand firm anywhere if we then 
gave up on Vietnam. Finally, if the U.S. suspected that the best course in Viet- 
nam was to seek immediately an alternative to Diem, no one knew who the 
alternative might be, or whether getting rid of Diem would really make things 

Such was the prospect of Vietnam as 1961 began, and a new Administra- 
tion took office. 


A. WINTER, 1961 

The Vietnam Counter-Insurgency Plan which was being worked on through 
most of 1960 finally reached the White House in late January, apparently just 
after Kennedy took office. We do not have a document showing the exact date, 
but we know that Kennedy approved the main provisions of the Plan after a 
meeting on January 28th, and negotiations with Diem began February 13. 

The provisions of the CIP tell a good deal about how the Viet Cong threat 

24 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

looked to American and Vietnamese officials at the beginning of 1961, for there 
is nothing in the record to suggest that anyone — either in Saigon or Washing- 
ton, Vietnamese or American — judged the CIP to be an inadequate response to 
the VC threat. 

The U.S. offered Diem equipment and supplies to outfit a 20,000 man increase 
in his army. The cost was estimated at $28.4 million. The U.S. also offered to 
train, outfit and supply 32,000 men of the Civil Guard (a counterguerrilla auxil- 
iary) at a cost of $12.7 million. These two moves would help Diem expand the 
RVNAF to a total of 170,000 men, and expand the Civil Guard to a total of 
68,000 men. There were some further odds and ends totalling less than another 
million. The full package added up to less than $42 million, which was a sub- 
stantial but not enormous increment to on-going U.S. aid to Vietnam of about 
$220 million a year. (Since most of these costs were for initial outfitting for 
new forces, the package was mainly a one-time shot in the arm.) 

For their part, the Vietnamese were supposed to pay the local currency 
costs of the new forces, and carry out a number of military and civil reforms. 

The key military reforms were to straighten out the chain of command, and 
to develop an agreed overall plan of operations. 

The chain of command problem was that control of the counterinsur- 
gency effort in the provinces was divided between the local military com- 
mander and the Province Chief, a personal appointee of Diem, and re- 
porting directly to Diem. Even at a higher level, 3 regional field commands 
reported directly to Diem, by-passing the Chief of Staff. So a total of 42 
officials with some substantial (and overlapping) control of the war effort 
reported directly to Diem: 38 Province Chiefs, 3 regional commanders, 
and the Chief of Staff. The "reform" eventually gotten from Diem put the 
regional commanders under the Chief of Staff, and combined the office of 
Province Chief (usually a military man in any event) and local field com- 
mander. But the Province Chiefs still were personally responsible to Diem, 
and could appeal directly to him outside the nominal chain of command. 
Diem's reform, consequently, turned out to be essentially meaningless. His 
reluctance to move on this issue was not surprising. After all, the division 
and confusion of military authority served a real purpose for a ruler like 
Diem, with no broad base of support: it lessened the chance of a coup that 
would throw him out. 

The overall plan issue, on which not even a paper agreement was 
reached during the period covered by this account, was really an argument 
over strategy. It has a familiar ring. 

Diem seemed oriented very much towards maintaining at least the pre- 
tense of control over all of South Vietnam. Consequently, he favored 
maintaining military outposts (and concentrating the population in Agro- 
villes, the predecessors of the strategic hamlets) along "lines of strength" 
(generally main roads) which stretched throughout the country. To as- 
sert at least nominal control over the countryside between these lines of 
strength, the military forces would periodically organize a sweep. In con- 
trast to this, the American plan stressed what MAAG called a "net and 
spear" concept. Small units would scour the jungles beyond the pacified area. 
When this "net" found an enemy unit, they would call in reserves (the 
spear) for a concentrated attempt to destroy the unit. As new areas were 
thus cleared, the net would be pushed further out into previously uncon- 
tested areas. It is not clear how well refined either concept was, or (with 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 25 

hindsight) whether the American plan was really a great deal more real- 
istic than Diem's. But the American interest is getting Diem to agree to 
a plan does seem to have been primarily oriented to getting him to agree 
to some systematic procedure for using forces to clear areas of VC con- 
trol, instead of tying up most of his forces defending fixed installations, 
with periodic uneventful sweeps through the hinterland. 

On the civil side, the stress in the CIP was on trying to shore up the regime's 
support within the cities by such steps as bringing opposition leaders into the 
government, and giving the National Assembly the power to investigate charges 
of mismanagement and corruption in the executive. 

The Plan also called for "civic action" and other steps to increase the change 
of winning positive loyalty from the peasants. 

A good deal of bureaucratic compromise had gone into the CIP. Ambassador 
Durbrow only reluctantly conceded any real need for the 20,000 man force in- 
crease. The stress on civil reforms, in particular on civil reforms as part of a 
quid pro quo, came into the plan only after the Saigon Embassy became in- 
volved, although there were general allusions to such things even in the original 
military draft of the CIP. 

Nevertheless, there was at least a paper agreement, and so far as the record 
shows, substantial real agreement as well. No one complained the plan was 
inadequate. It would, "if properly implemented," "turn the tide." And, by im- 
plication, it would do so without any major increase in American personnel in 
Vietnam, and indeed, aside from the one-shot outfitting of the new units, with- 
out even any major increase in American aid. 

None of this meant that the warnings that we have seen in the Saigon Em- 
bassy's dispatches or in the August SNIE were not seriously intended. What it 
did mean was that, as of early 1961, the view that was presented to senior of- 
ficials in Washington essentially showed the VC threat as a problem which 
could be pretty confidently handled, given a little more muscle for the army 
and some shaping up by the Vietnamese administration. Any doubts expressed 
went to the will and comptence of the Diem regime, not to the strength of 
the VC, the role of Hanoi, or the adequacy of U.S. aid. 

Consequently, among the assumptions listed as underlying the CIP, we find 
(with emphasis added) : 

That the Government of Viet-Nam has the basic potential to cope 
with the Viet Cong guerrilla threat if necessary corrective measures are 
taken and adequate forces are provided. 

That of course was the heart of the CIP bargain: the U.S. would provide 
support for the "adequate forces" if Diem would take the "necessary corrective 
steps." The hinted corollary was that our commitment to Diem should be con- 
tingent on his performance: 

That at the present time the Diem government offers the best hope for 
defeating the Viet Cong. 


Running against these suggestions (of a firm bargaining position contingent 
on Diem's performance), was concern that if Diem were overthrown his sue- 

26 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

cessors might be no better; and that the VC might exploit the confusion and 
perhaps even civil war following a coup. Further, there was an argument that 
part of Diem's reluctance to move on reforms was that he was afraid to make 
any concession that might weaken his grip: consequently the U.S. needed to 
reassure him that he could count on our firm support to him personally. 

A strong statement of this point of view is contained in a report submitted 
in January by Brig. General Edward Lansdale, then the Assistant to the Secre- 
tary of Defense for Special Operations. Lansdale had become famous for his 
work in the Philippines advising on the successful campaign against the Huk 
insurgents. In 1955 and 1956, he was a key figure in installing and establishing 
Diem as President of South Vietnam. As mentioned in the Introduction, Lansdale 
visited Vietnam in early January. Here, from his report, are a few extracts on 
Diem and how Lansdale felt he should be handled: 

. . . We must support Ngo Dinh Diem until another strong executive 
can replace him legally. President Diem feels that Americans have attacked 
him almost as viciously as the Communists, and he has withdrawn into a 
shell for self-protection. We have to show him by deeds, not words alone, 
that we are his friend. This will make our influence effective again. 

... If the next American official to talk to President Diem would have 
the good sense to see him as a human being who has been through a lot of 
hell for years — and not as an opponent to be beaten to his knees — we 
would start regaining our influence with him in a healthy way. Whatever 
else we might think of him, he has been unselfish in devoting his life to 
his country and has little in personal belongings to show for it. If we don't 
like the heavy influence of Brother Nhu, then let's move someone of ours in 
close. This someone, however, must be able to look at problems with un- 
derstanding, suggest better solutions than does Nhu, earn a position of in- 
fluence. . . . 

Ambassador Durbrow should be transferred in the immediate future. 
He has been in the "forest of tigers" which is Vietnam for nearly four years 
now and I doubt that he himself realizes how tired he has become or how 
close he is to the individual trees in this big woods. Correctly or not, the 
recognized government of Vietnam does not look upon him as a friend, 
believing he sympathized strongly with the coup leaders of 1 1 November. 

. . . Ngo Dinh Diem is still the only Vietnamese with executive ability 
and the required determination to be an effective President. I believe 
there will be another attempt to get rid of him soon, unless the U.S. makes 
it clear that we are backing him as the elected top man. If the 11 Novem- 
ber coup had been successful, I believe that a number of highly selfish and 
mediocre people would be squabbling among themselves for power while 
the Communists took over. The Communists will be more alert to exploit the 
next coup attempt. . . . 

Lansdale's view was not immediately taken up, even though Hilsman re- 
ports that his presentation impressed Kennedy enough to start the President 
thinking about sending the General to Saigon as our next Ambassador. In- 
stead, Kennedy made what was under the circumstances the easiest, least time- 
consuming decision, which was simply to let the Ambassador he had inherited 
from the Eisenhower Administration go forward and make a try with the plan 
and negotiating tactics already prepared. 

Durbrow's guidance specifically tells him (in instructions he certainly found 
suited his own view perfectly) : 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 27 

. . . considered U.S. view (is) that success requires implementation en- 
tire plan ... If Ambassador considers GVN does not provide necessary 
cooperation, he should inform Washington with recommendations which 
may include suspension U.S. contribution. 


Kennedy's approval of the CIP apparently was seen as quite a routine action. 
None of the memoirs of the period give it any particular attention. And, al- 
though both Schlesinger and Hilsman refer to General Lansdale's report as 
shocking the President about the state of things in Vietnam, that report itself 
does not criticize the CIP, or the adequacy of its programs. 

The guidance to Durbrow assumed agreement could be reached "within two 
weeks." This choice of language in the guidance cable implies that we be- 
lieved Diem would quickly agree on the terms of the CIP, and the question of 
using pressure against him ("suspension of U.S. contribution") would only 
arise later, should he fail to follow through on his part of the agreement. 

As it turned out, Durbrow's efforts took a more complicated form. Even 
reaching a nominal agreement on the Cip took about 6 weeks. Then, Durbrow 
recommended holding up what is constantly referred to as "the green light" on 
increased aid until Diem had actually signed decrees implementing his major 

On March 8 (in response to a Washington suggestion for stepping up some 
aid prior to agreement on the CIP), Saigon cabled that: 

. . . despite pressure of Embassy and MAAG, GVN has not decreed 
the required measures and will continue to delay unless highly pressured 
to act. 

But by the 16th both the MAAG Chief and the Ambassador were taking a 
gentler line. Durbrow's cable of that date reports that agreement on military 
reforms had reached a point "which MAAG considers it can live with provided 
GVN follows through with proper implementation." He was more concerned 
about the civil reforms, but nevertheless concluded the cable with: 

Comments: Diem was most affable, exuded confidence and for first 
time expressed some gratitude our CIP efforts which he promised imple- 
ment as best he could. Again before giving full green light believe we 
should await outcome detail discussion by GVN-US officials. In meantime 
MAAG quietly ordering some equipment for 20,000 increase. 

And a week later, Washington replied, agreeing that the "green light" should 
be held up until the CIP was approved, but also noting that since success de- 
pended on the willing cooperation of the Vietnamese, the Embassy ought not 
to push Diem too hard in the negotiations. 

Following this, the CIP negotiations dragged on inconclusively, and there is 
a ghostly quality to it all. There are cables giving encouraging progress reports 
which, in fact, seem limited to vague promises which, with hindsight, we know 
to have been quite meaningless, MAAG (and eventually the JCS in Washington) 
grew increasingly impatient with Durbrow's insistence on further holding up the 
"green light." They wanted to get on with the war. 

28 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

By the end, Durbrow was simply holding out for Diem to actually complete 
the paperwork on some steps he had long ago said he intended to take. His very 
last cable (May 3) gives a good feeling for the flavor of the negotiations that 
had been going on between Diem and Durbrow for the nearly 3 months since 
the CIP talks began (and indeed it gives the flavor of Durbrow's relations with 
Diem at least since the previous October). 

During the inauguration reception at Palace April 29, Diem took me 
aside and asked if I had given green light for US implementation of our 
part of counter insurgency plan (CIP). I replied frankly that I had not 
and noted that as stated in my letter of February 13 certain minimum 
actions must be taken by the GVN first if CIP is to produce results. I listed 
following actions: (1) Establishment of a central intelligence organiza- 
tion; (2) assignment of operational control for counter insurgency opera- 
tions within military chain of command; and (3) implementation of 
reforms announced by Diem on February 6. Diem replied that he would 
do all these things, but that time was required to work out details. He said 
various GVN Cabinet members and Joint General Staff studying proposals 
and have different ideas. Since he wants to be sure that whatever done is 
well thought out, will be successful and not have to be changed in future 
he letting responsible officials thoroughly consider proposals. Diem stated 
that Secretary Thuan working on detailed statute for central intelligence 
organization, but it required more work and needs to be polished up. I 
replied that frankly time was slipping by and as yet there no action on 
these three points, which essential before I can give "green light" on 
equipment for 20,000 increase in armed forces. 

In connection Diem remarks, Vice President Tho told me April 28 that 
he had not seen CIP, although he had heard of its existence, and he does 
not believe other Ministers have seen it either. Question thus arises as to 
whether Diem's statement that various Cabinet members studying CIP 
refers only to Thuan. I gave Tho fairly detailed fill-in on CIP contents. Tho 
said action now by President, at least implementation of reforms, needed 
in order capitalize on present upswing in popular feeling about situation 
following GVN success in carrying out elections despite VC efforts to dis- 
rupt. Stating he did not know when if ever reforms will be implemented, 
he commented that failure take such action after so many promises would 
lose all momentum gained from elections. Tho added that, aside from 
psychological impact, reforms likely take (sic; make) little change unless 
Diem himself changes his methods of operating. He noticed that if "super 
ministers" without real authority they likely become just additional level 
in bureaucracy without making GVN more effective. 

On May 2 in course my formal farewell call I asked Diem if decrees yet 
signed on intelligence organization, chain of command and reforms. Diem 
stated he working on these matters but went through usual citation of 
difficulties including problem of convincing available personnel that they 
capable and qualified carry out responsibilities. He stated he already named 
Colonel Nguyen Van Yankee to head intelligence organization, Colonel 
Yankee has selected building for his headquarters and in process recruit- 
ing staff, while Secretary Thuan working on statute for organization. Re 
chain of command, I strongly emphasized that this one of most important 
factors in CIP, GVN must organize itself to follow national plan with one 
man in charge operational control and not waste time chasing will of 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 29 

wisps. Diem replied that he not feeling well (he has cold) and with inaugu- 
ration he has not had time focus on this question but he will do it. He 
stated that he realizes only effective way is to place counter insurgency 
operations under Joint General Staff, but that his generals disagreed as to 
exactly how this should be done. 

Diem, referring Sihanouk's Vietiane press conference (Vientiane's 1979), 
stated he did not believe there would be 14-nation conference and he afraid 
Laos almost lost already. Diem argued that since PL occupy almost all of 
southern Laos, we must agree increase in RVNAF to provide additional 
personnel to train self defense corps which in very bad shape. 

Comment: Although Thuan has indicated to (MAAG Chief) General 
McGarr decree designating single officer to conduct counter insurgency 
operations being signed imminently, I asked him morning May 3 when 
seeing off Harriman and Lemnitzer whether I would receive before depar- 
ture "present" he has long promised me. He replied presents often come 
when least expected, which apparently means Diem not yet ready sign 

While we should proceed with procurement equipment for 20,000 in- 
crease as recommended my 1606, I do not believe GVN should be in- 
formed of this green light, particularly until above decree signed. Durbrow. 

The February 6 reforms referred to involved a cabinet re-organization Diem 
had announced before the start of the CIP negotiations. The intelligence re- 
organization was to consolidate the 7 existing services. The chain of command 
problem has been discussed above. Diem finally issued decrees on all these 
points a few days after Durbrow went home. The decrees were essentially 
meaningless: exactly these same issues remained high on the list of "necessary 
reforms" called for after the Taylor Mission, and indeed throughout the rest of 
Diem's life. 


Did Durbrow's tactics make sense? There is an argument to be made both 
ways. Certainly if Durbrow's focus was on the pro forma paperwork, then they 
did not. Mere formal organizational re-arrangements (unifying the then 7 intel- 
ligence services into 1, setting up at least a nominal chain of command for the 
war) often change very little even when they are seriously intended. To the 
extent they are not seriously intended, they are almost certain to be meaning- 
less. Vice President Tho, of course, is cited in the cable as making exactly that 
point. The very fact that Durbrow chose to include this remark in the cable 
(without questioning it) suggests he agreed. But if squeezing the formal decrees 
out of Diem really did not mean much, then what was the point of exacerbat- 
ing relations with Diem (not to mention relations with the military members of 
the U.S. mission) to get them? In hindsight, we can say there was none, unless 
the U.S. really meant what it had said about making U.S. support for Diem 
contingent on his taking "corrective measures." Then the function of those 
tactics would not have been to squeeze a probably meaningless concession from 
Diem; for the cable quoted alone makes it pretty clear that it would have been 
naive to expect much follow-through from Diem. The purpose would have been 
to begin the process of separating U.S. support for Vietnam from support for 
the Diem regime, and to lay the basis for stronger such signals in the future 
unless Diem underwent some miraculous reformation. That, of course, is exactly 

30 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

the tack the U.S. followed in the fall of 1963, once the Administration had 
really decided that we could not go on with the Diem regime as it then existed. 

All this can be said with hindsight. It is not clear how much of this line of 
thinking should be attributed to American officials in Washington or Saigon 
at the time. There is no hint in the cables we have that Durbrow was thinking 
this way. Rather he seems to have felt that the concessions he was wringing 
from Diem represented real progress, but that we would have to keep up the 
pressure (presumably with threats to suspend aid — as his guidance considered — 
even after the "green light" was given) to keep goading Diem in the right 
direction. Meanwhile, the predominant view (pushed most strongly, but hardly 
exclusively by the military) was that we should, and could effectively get on 
with the war with as much cooperation as we could get from Diem short of 
interfering with the war effort: it was all right to try for a quid pro quo on aid, 
but not very hard. The Lansdale view went even further, stressing the need for 
a demonstration of positive, essentially unqualified support for Diem if only to 
discourage a further coup attempt, which Lansdale saw as the main short-run 

In a significant way, Lansdale's view was not very different in its analysis of 
tactics from the view that Diem was hopeless. Both Lansdale, with his strong 
pro-Diem view, and men like Galbraith with a strong anti-Diem view, agreed 
that Diem could not be pressured into reforming this regime. ("He won't change, 
because he can't change," wrote Galbraith in a cable we will quote in more de- 
tail later.) 

Where the Lansdale and Galbraith views differed — a fundamental difference, 
of course, — was in their estimate of the balance of risks of a coup. Lansdale, 
and obviously his view carried the day, believed that a coup was much more 
likely to make things worse than make things better. This must have been an 
especially hard view to argue against in 1961, when Diem did not look as hope- 
less as he would later, and when a strong argument could be made that the U.S. 
just could not afford at that time to risk the collapse of a pro-Western govern- 
ment in Vietnam. It must have seemed essentially irresistible to take the route 
or at least postponing, as seemed quite feasible, a decision on such a tough and 
risky course as holding back on support for Diem. The President, after all, 
could remember the charges that the Truman Administration had given away 
China by holding back on aid to Chiang to try to pressure him toward reform. 
As a young Congressman, he had even joined the chorus. 

Meanwhile Durbrow was about to come home (he had been in Vietnam for 
4 years); security problems in Vietnam were, at best, not improving; and the 
repercussions of Laos were spilling over and would make further moves on Viet- 
nam an urgent matter. By the middle of April, the Administration was under- 
taking its first close look at the problem in Vietnam (in contrast to the almost 
automatic approval of the CIP during the opening days of the new Administra- 



The development of what eventually came to be called "The Presidential 
Program for Vietnam" formally began with this memorandum from McNamara 
to Gilpatric : 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 31 

20 April 1961 


This will confirm our discussion of this morning during which I stated 
that the President has asked that you: 

a. Appraise the current status and future prospects of the Communist 
drive to dominate South Viet-Nam. 

b. Recommend a series of actions (military, political and/or eco- 
nomic, overt and/or covert) which, in your opinion, will prevent 
Communist domination of that country. 

The President would like to receive your report on or before Thursday, 
April 27. 

During the course of your study, you should draw, to the extent you 
believe necessary, upon the views and resources of the State E partment 
and CIA. Mr. Chester Bowles was present when the President discussed 
the matter with me, and I have reviewed the project with Mr. Allen Dulles. 
Further, the President stated that Mr. Walt Rostow would be available to 
counsel with you. 

Gilpatric, although obviously given a completely free hand under the terms 
of the memo, nevertheless set up an interagency task force to work on the re- 
port. A draft was ready April 26, and Gilpatric sent it to the President the fol- 
lowing day. But this turned out to be only the first, and relatively unimportant 
phase of the effort. For the Laos crisis came to a boil just as the first Gilpatric 
report was finished, and the Task Force was continued with the essentially 
new mission of a recommending additional measure to keep our position from 
falling apart in the wake of what was happening in Laos. Consequently, to un- 
derstand these late-April, early-May decisions, we have to treat separately the 
initial Gilpatric effort and the later, primarily State-drafted revision, dated May 
6. The same general factors were in the background of both efforts, although 
Laos was only one of the things that influenced the April 26 effort, while it 
became the overwhelming element in the May 6 effort. It is worth setting out 
these influencing factors, specifically: 

1. The security situation in Vietnam. 

2. The Administration's special interest in counter-insurgency. 

3. The apparent futility and divisiveness of the Durbrow (pressure) tactics 
for dealing with Diem. 

4. Eventually most important, and substantially narrowing the range of 
options realistically open to the Administration, the weakness of US 
policy in Laos, and the consequent strongly felt need for a signal of firm 
policy in Vietnam. 

1. The Security Situation in Vietnam 

The VC threat in Vietnam looked worse in April than it had in January. We 
will see that Gilpatric's report painted a bleak picture. Yet, there is no hint in 
the record that concern about the immediate situation in Vietnam was a major 
factor in the decision to formulate a new program. 

32 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

VC strength was estimated at 3-15,000 in Lansdale's January memorandum; 
8-10,000 in a March NIE; 10,000 in an April briefing paper (apparently by 
Landsdale) immediately preceding — and recommending — the Gilpatric Task 
Force; then 12,000 one week later in the Gilpatric report proper. VC incidents 
were reported high for April (according to the Task Force report, 650 per 
month, 4 times higher than January), but an upsurge in activity had long been 
predicted to coincide with the Vietnamese elections. As would happen in the 
future, the failure of the VC to prevent the elections was considered a sign of 
government strength. 

On the basis of the Task Force statistics, we could assume that the situation 
was deteriorating rapidly: taken literally, they indicate an increase in VC strength 
of 20 percent in about a week, plus the large increase in incidents. But neither 
cables from the field, nor the Washington files show any sense of a sharply de- 
teriorating situation. And, as we will see, the initial Task Force Report, despite 
its crisis tone, recommended no increase in miltary strength for the Vietnamese, 
only more generous US financial aid to forces already planned under the CIP. 

2. The Administration's Special Interest in Counter-insurgency 

A more important impetus to the Gilpatric effort than any sense of deteriora- 
tion in Vietnam seems to have been the Administration's general interest in do- 
ing something about counter-insurgency warfare, combined with an interest in 
finding more informal and more efficient means of supervising policy than the 
Eisenhower Administration's elaborate National Security structure. The effort 
in Vietnam obviously required some coordination of separate efforts by at least 
State, Defense, CIA, and ICA (a predecessor of AID). Further, once a coor- 
dinated program was worked out, the idea appears to have been to focus re- 
sponsibility for seeing to it that the program was carried out on some clearly 
identified individual. This search for a better way to organize Gilpatric effort, 
although it became inconsequential after the original submission. 

3. The Apparent Futility and Divisiveness of the Durbrow (Pressure) Tactics 
for Dealing With Diem 

Late April was a peculiarly appropriate time to undertake the sort of sharpen- 
ing up of policy and its organization just described. It was probably clear by 
then that Durbrow's pressure tactics were not really accomplishing much with 
Diem. Besides, Durbrow had been in Vietnam for four years by April, and a 
new Ambassador would normally have been sent in any event. Fritz Nolting had 
been chosen by early April, and he was scheduled to take over in early May. 
Further, Diem had just been reelected, an essentially meaningless formality to 
be sure, but still one more thing that helped make late April a logical time for 
taking a fresh look at US relations with Diem. And even to people who believed 
that a continuation of Durbrow's pressure tactics might be the best approach to 
Diem, events elsewhere and especially in Laos must have raised questions 
about whether it was a politic time to be threatening to withhold aid. 

4. The Weakness of US Policy in Laos, and the Need for a Signal of Firm 
Policy in Vietnam 

The situation in the world that April seemed to create an urgent requirement 
for the US to do something to demonstrate firmness, and especially so in South- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 33 

east Asia. The Task Force was set up the day after the Bay of Pigs invasion 
force surrendered, and at a time when the Laos crisis was obviously coming to 
head. There had been implicit agreement in principle between the US and the 
Soviets to seek a cease fire in Laos and to organize a neutral coalition govern- 
ment. But it was not clear at all that the cease-fire would come while there was 
anything left worth arguing about in the hands of the pro-Western faction. 
Gilpatric's initial Task Force report reached the President the day of a crisis 
meeting in Laos, and the more important second phase of the effort began then, 
in an atmosphere wholly dominated by Laos. 

But even before the Laos crisis reached its peak, there was a sense in Washing- 
ton and generally in the world that put strong pressures on the Administration 
to look for ways to take a firm stand somewhere; and if it was not to be in Laos, 
then Vietnam was next under the gun. 

Something of the mood of the time can be sensed in these quotes, one from 
a March 28 NIE on Southeast Asia, another from Lansdale's notes, and finally 
a significant question from a Kennedy press conference: 

From the NIE: 

There is a deep awareness among the countries of Southeast Asia that de- 
velopments in the Laotian crisis, and its outcome, have a profound impact 
on their future. The governments of the area tend to regard the Laotian 
crisis as a symbolic test of strengths between the major powers of the West 
and the Communist bloc. 

From Lansdale's notes (about April 21) : 

1. Psychological — VN believed always they main target. Now it comes — 
"when our turn comes, will we be treated the same as Laos?" Main task 
GVN confidence in US. 

And suggesting the more general tone of the time (even a week before the 
Bay of Pigs, prompted by the Soviet orbiting of a man in space) this question 
at Kennedy's April 12 news conference: 

Mr. President, this question might better be asked at a history class than 
at a news conference, but here it is anyway. The Communists seem to be 
putting us on the defensive on a number of fronts — now, again, in space. 
Wars aside, do you think there is a danger that their system is going to 
prove more durable than ours. 

The President answered with cautious reassurance. Eight days later, after the 
Bay of Pigs, and the day he ordered the Task Force to go ahead, he told the 
Association of Newspaper Editors: 

.... it is clearer than ever that we face a relentless struggle in every 
corner of the globe that goes far beyond the clash of armies, or even nu- 
clear armaments. The armies are there. But they serve primarily as the 
shield behind which subversion, infiltration, and a host of other tactics 
steadily advance, picking off vulnerable areas one by one in situations 
that do not permit our own armed intervention. . . . We dare not fail 
to see the insidious nature of this new and deeper struggle. We dare not 

34 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

fail to grasp the new concepts, the new tools, the new sense of urgency 
we will need to combat it — whether in Cuba or South Vietnam. (Notice 
Kennedy's explicit assumption about US armed intervention as a means of 
dealing with insurgencies. Not too much can be read into his remark, for it 
probably was inspired primarily by criticism of his refusal to try to save the 
Bay of Pigs contingent. But the balance of the record adds significance to 
the comment.) 


The available Gilpatric file consists mostly of drafts of the report and memos 
from Lansdale. It contains a memorandum dated April 13, in which Lans- 
dale advised Gilpatric of a meeting with Rostow, at which Rostow showed 
Lansdale a copy of a memorandum to Kennedy recommending a fresh crack 
at the Vietnam situation. Here is Rostow's memorandum: 

April 12, 1961 


Now that the Viet-Nam election is over, I believe we must turn to gearing up 
the whole Viet-Nam operation. Among the possible lines of action that might 
be considered at an early high level meeting are the following: 

1. The appointment of a full time first-rate back-stop man in Washington. 
McNamara, as well as your staff, believes this to be essential. 

2. The briefing of our new Ambassador, Fritz Nolting, including sufficient 
talk with yourself so that he fully understands the priority you attach to the 
Viet-Nam problem. 

3. A possible visit to Viet-Nam in the near future by the Vice President. 

4. A possible visit to the United States of Mr. Thuan, acting Defense Min- 
ister, and one of the few men around Diem with operational capacity and vigor. 

5. The sending to Viet-Nam of a research and development and military 
hardware team which would explore with General McGarr which of the vari- 
ous techniques and gadgets now available or being explored might be relevant 
and useful in the Viet-Nam operation. 

6. The raising of the MAAG ceiling, which involves some diplomacy, unless 
we can find an alternative way of introducing into the Viet-Nam operation a 
substantial number of Special Forces types. 

7. The question of replacing the present ICA Chief in Viet-Nam, who, by 
all accounts, has expended his capital. We need a vigorous man who can work 
well with the military, since some of the rural development problems relate 
closely to guerrilla operations. 

8. Settling the question of the extra funds for Diem. 

9. The tactics of persuading Diem to move more rapidly to broaden the 
base of his government, as well as to decrease its centralization and improve its 

Against the background of decisions we should urgently take on these mat- 
ters, you may wish to prepare a letter to Diem which would not only con- 
gratulate him, reaffirm our support, and specify new initiatives we are prepared 
to take, but would make clear to him the urgency you attach to a more effective 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 35 

political and morale setting for his military operation, now that the elections 
are successfully behind him. 

Neither this memo, nor other available papers, give us a basis for judging how 
far the stress on the importance of Vietnam was already influenced by develop- 
ments in Laos, and how much it reflects a separable interest in taking on the 
challenge of "wars of liberation." Both were undoubtedly important. But this 
Rostow memo turned out to be pretty close to an agenda for the initial Task 
Force report. It seems very safe to assume that the "full-time, first-rate, back- 
stop man in Washington" Rostow had in mind was Lansdale. (Gilpatric 
himself obviously could not be expected to spend full-time on Vietnam.) Pre- 
sumably the President's request for the Gilpatric report was intended as either 
a method of easing Lansdale into that role, or at least of trying him out in it. 

Following the description of the Rostow memo, Gilpatric's file contains sev- 
eral carbon copies of a long paper, unsigned but certainly by Lansdale, 
which among other things recommends that the President set up a Task Force 
for Vietnam which would lay out a detailed program of action and go on to 
supervise the implementation of that program. The date on the paper is April 
19, but a draft must have been prepared some days earlier, probably about the 
time of Lansdale's discussion with Rostow on the 13th, since the available 
copies recommended that the Task Force submit its report to the President 
by April 21. The paper explicitly foresaw a major role for General Lansdale 
both in the Task Force, and thereafter in supervising the implementation of 
the report. 

This Task Force was apparently intended to supersede what the paper refers 
to as "one of the customary working groups in Washington" which was "being 
called together next week by John Steeves, Acting Assistant Secretary of 
State for Far Eastern Affairs." 

In view of all this, it is not surprising to find that the first phase of the Task 
Force effort appears, from the record, to have been very much a Gilpatric- 
Lansdale show. The first meeting of the group (which included State and CIA 
representatives) was apparently held April 24, four days after Gilpatric was told 
to go ahead. Present files do not show whether there was another full meeting 
of the group before the first version of the report (dated April 26) was sent 
to the President on the 27th. 

Here are the opening sections, which introduce the list of proposed actions 
which make up the program. 


After meeting in Hanoi on 13 May 1959, the Central Committee 
of the North Vietnamese Communist Party publicly announced its inten- 
tion "to smash" the government of President Diem. Following this deci- 
sion, the Viet Cong have significantly increased their program of infiltra- 
tion, subversion, sabotage and assassination designed to achieve this end. 

At the North Vietnamese Communist Party Congress in September 
1960, the earlier declaration of underground war by the Party's Control 

Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

Committee was reaffirmed. This action by the Party Congress took place 
only a month after Kong Le's coup in Laos. Scarcely two months later 
there was a military uprising in Saigon. The turmoil created throughout the 
area by this rapid succession of events provides an ideal environment for 
the Communist "master plan" to take over all of Southeast Asia. 

Since that time, as can be seen from the attached map, the internal 
security situation in South Vietnam has become critical. What amounts to 
a state of active guerrilla warfare now exists throughout the country. The 
number of Viet Cong hard-core Communists has increased from 4400 in 
early 1960 to an estimated 12,000 today. The number of violent incidents 
per month now averages 650. Casualties on both sides totaled more than 
4500 during the first three months of this year. Fifty-eight percent of the 
country is under some degree of Communist control, ranging from harass- 
ment and night raids to almost complete administrative jurisdiction in the 
Communist "secure areas." 

The Viet Cong over the past two years have succeeded in stepping up the 
pace and intensity of their attacks to the point where South Vietnam is 
nearing the decisive phase in its battle for survival. If the situation con- 
tinues to deteriorate, the Communists will be able to press on to their 
strategic goal of establishing a rival "National Liberation Front" govern- 
ment in one of these "secure areas" thereby plunging the nation into open 
civil war. They have publicly announced that they will "take over the 
country before the end of 1961." 

This situation is thus critical, but is not hopeless. The Vietnamese Gov- 
ernment, with American aid, has increased its capabilities to fight its at- 
tackers, and provides a base upon which the necessary additional effort 
can be founded to defeat the Communist attack. Should the Communist 
effort increase, either directly or as a result of a collapse of Laos, addi- 
tional measures beyond those proposed herein would be necessary. 

In short, the situation in South Vietnam has reached the point where, 
at least for the time being, primary emphasis should be placed on provid- 
ing a solution to the internal security problem. 

The US Objective: To create a viable and increasingly democratic so- 
ciety in South Vietnam and to prevent Communist domination of the 

Concept of Operations: To initiate on an accelerated basis, a series 
of mutually supporting actions of a military, political, economic, psycholog- 
ical and covert character designed to achieve this objective. In so doing, it 
is intended to use, and where appropriate extend, expedite or build upon 
the existing US and Government of Vietnam [GVN] programs already 
underway in South Vietnam. There is neither the time available nor any 
sound justification for "starting from scratch." Rather the need is to focus 
the US effort in South Vietnam on the immediate internal security prob- 
lem; to infuse it with a sense of urgency and a dedication to the overall 
US objective; to achieve, through cooperative inter-departmental support 
both in the field and in Washington, the operational flexibility needed to 
apply the available US assets in a manner best calculated to achieve our 
objective in Vietnam; and, finally, to impress on our friends, the Vietna- 
mese, and on our foes, the Viet Cong, that come what may, the US intends 
to win this battle. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 37 

The program that followed this strongly worded introduction was very modest, 
not merely compared to current US involvement, but to the effort the US under- 
took following the Taylor Mission in the fall. The program is essentially simply 
a moderate acceleration of the CIP program approved in January, with a great 
deal of stress on vigor, enthusiasm, and strong leadership in carrying out the 

In particular, the program proposes no increase in the Vietnamese army, and 
only a moderate (in hindsight, inconsequential) increase in the size of our 
MAAG mission. The main military measures were for the US to provide finan- 
cial support for the 20,000-man increase in the RVNAF and to provide support 
for the full complement of counter-insurgency auxiliary forces (Civil Guard 
and Self-Defense Corps) planned by Diem. Both were modest steps. For under 
the CIP we were already planning to pay support costs for 150,000 men of the 
RVNAF and 32,000 men of the Civil Guard. This Task Force proposal, which 
had been urged for some weeks by MAAG in Saigon, simply said that we would 
provide the same support for all the Vietnamese forces that we had already 
planned to provide for most of them. 

For the rest, the Presidential Program in its final form, issued May 19, turned 
out (after a great deal of stirring around) to be close to that proposed in the 
April 26 draft. 

Two comments are needed on this material. First, the program Lansdale and 
Gilpatric proposed was not so narrowly military as the repeated emphasis on 
priority for the internal security problem might suggest. Rather, the emphasis 
was on stabilizing the countryside, in contrast to pressing Diem on political 
and administrative reforms mainly of interest to Diem's urban critics. This re- 
flected both Lansdale's judgments on counter-insurgency, which look good in 
hindsight, and his strongly pro-Diem orientation, which looks much less good. 

Second, the reference to a communist "master plan" for Southeast Asia (and 
similar language is found in a number of other staff papers through the balance 
of 1961) suggests a view of the situation which has been much criticized re- 
cently by men like Galbraith and Kennan. Public comments by those who were 
closely involved (both those critical of policy since 1965, such as Sorenson and 
Hilsman, and those supporting the Administration, such as William Bundy) 
suggest a more sophisticated view of the problem. Here we simply note that the 
formal staff work available strongly supports Galbraith and Kennan, although 
this does not necessarily imply that the senior members of the Administration 
shared the view that North Vietnam was operating (in the words of another 
staff paper) as the "implementing agent of Bloc policy" rather than in fairly 
conventional, mainly non-ideological pursuit of its own national interest. 


In his April 27 memorandum transmitting the Report to the President, Gil- 
patric noted that: 

... in the short time available to the Task Force it was not possible to 
develop the program in complete detail. However, there has been prepared 
a plan for mutually supporting actions of a political, military, economic, 
psychological, and covert character which can be refined periodically on the 
basis of further recommendations from the field. 

Toward this end, Brigadier General E.G. Lansdale, USAF, who has been 

38 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

designated Operations Officer for the Task Force, will proceed to Vietnam 
immediately after the program receives Presidential approval. Following 
on the spot discussions with US and Vietnamese officials, he will forward 
to the Director of the Task Force specific recommendations for action in 
support of the attached program. 

This appears to have been the high point of Lansdale's role in Vietnam policy. 
Lansdal by this time had already sent (with Gilpatric's approval) messages 
requesting various people to meet him in Saigon, May 5. This is from a mem- 
orandum he sent to Richard Bissell, then still a Deputy Director of the CIA, 
requesting the services of one of his colleagues from the 1955-1956 experience 
in Vietnam: 

I realize Redick is committed to an important job in Laos and that this 
is a difficult time in that trouble spot. I do feel, however, that we may yet 
save Vietnam and that our best effort should be put into it. 

Redick, in my opinion, is now so much a part of the uninhibited com- 
munications between President Diem and myself that it goes far beyond 
the question of having an interpreter. His particular facility for appreciating 
my meaning in words and the thoughts of Diem in return is practically in- 
dispensable to me in the role I am assigned in seeking President Kennedy's 
goal for Vietnam. 

But none of this was to be. Present files contain a thermofax of McNamara's 
copy of the memorandum Gilpatric sent to the President. In McNamara's hand- 
writing the words (Lansdale) "will proceed to Vietnam immediately" are 
changed to "will proceed to Vietnam when requested by the Ambassador." As 
we will see below, when the Task Force Report was redrafted the next week, 
Lansdale's key role disappeard entirely, at the request of the State Department, 
but presumably with the concurrence of the White House. 


Although our record is not clear, it appears that the cover memorandum was 
sent to the President as Gilpatric had signed it, and that McNamara's correc- 
tion reflected a decision made after the paper went to the President, rather than 
a change in the language of the memo. In any event, at a meeting on April 29, 
President Kennedy approved only the quite limited military proposals of the 
draft report it transmitted. Decisions were deferred on the balance of the pa- 
per, which now included an annex issued April 28 on much more substantial 
additional military aid believed required by the situation in Laos. The military 
measures approved during this first go-around were: 

( 1 ) Increase the MAAG as necessary to insure the effective imple- 
mention of the military portion of the program including the training of a 
20,000-man addition to the present GVN armed forces of 150,000. 
Initial appaisal of new tasks assigned CHMAAG indicates that approxi- 
mately 100 additional military personnel will be required immediately in 
addition to the present complement of 685. 

(2) Expand MAAG responsibilities to include authority to provide sup- 
port and advice to the Self Defense Corps with a strength of approximately 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 39 

(3) Authority MAP support for the entire Civil Guard Forces of 68,000 
MAP support is now authoritized for 32,000; the remaining 36,000 are not 
now adequately trained and equipped. 

(4) Install as a matter of priority a radar surveillance capability which 
will enable the GVN to obtain warning of Communist over-flights being 
conducted for intelligence or clandestine air supply purposes. Initially, this 
capability should be provided from US mobile radar capability. 

(5) Provide MAP support for the Vietnamese Junk Force as a means of 
preventing Viet Cong clandestine supply and infiltration into South Viet- 
nam by water. MAP support, which was not provided in the Counterin- 
surgency Plan, will include training of junk crews in Vietnam or at US 
bases by US Navy Personnel. 

The only substantial significance that can be read into these April 29 de- 
cisions is that they signalled a willingness to go beyond the 685-man limit on the 
size of the US military mission in Saigon, which, if it were done openly, 
would be the first formal breech of the Geneva Agreements. For the rest, we 
were providing somewhat more generous support to the Vietnamese than pro- 
posed in the CIP. But the overall size of the Vietnamese forces would be no 
higher than those already approved. (The 20,000-man increase was already 
part of the CIP.) No one proposed in this initial draft that the Administration 
even consider sending American troops (other than the 100-odd additional 
advisors). It was not, by any interpretation, a crisis response. 

Indeed, even if Kennedy had approved the whole April 26 program, it would 
have seemed (in hindsight) most notable for the "come what may, we intend 
to win" rhetoric in its introduction and for the supreme role granted to Task 
Force (and indirectly to Lansdale as its operations officer) in control of Viet- 
nam policy. Lansdale's memoranda leave no real doubt that he saw 
the Report exactly that way — which presumably was why he made no effort 
to risk stirring up trouble by putting his more controversial views into the pa- 
per. For example, although Lansdale believed the key new item in Vietnam 
policy was a need for emphatic support for Diem, only the barest hint of this 
view appears in the paper (and it is not even hinted at in Lansdale's preliminary 
draft of the report distributed at the April 24th meeting of the Task Force). 

That is when this opening phase of the Task Force effort has to be separated 
from what followed. As just noted, it was remarkable mainly for the strength 
of the commitment implied to South Vietnam, which the President never did 
unambiguously endorse, and for the organizational arrangement it proposed, 
with the key role for Lansdale and Gilpatric, which was eliminated from the 
later drafts. All of the factors behind the May reappraisal (cited at the begin- 
ning of this chapter) undoubtedly contributed to the decision to set up the Task 
Force. But Rostow's memorandum and the modest dimensions of the resulting 
proposals suggest the main idea really was to sharpen up existing policy and its 
administration, rather than to work out a new policy on the assumption that the 
existing program had become substantially obsolete. Immediately after April 
27, this changes. Although Gilpatric and Lansdale continued to head up the 
Task Force through the Presidential decisions of May 1 1 , their personal role 
became increasingly unimportant. The significance no longer was in putting 
new people in charge of a new style for running the program, but in developing 
a new program that would offset the impact of Laos. 

40 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 


On April 28, an annex had been issued to the basic report which went far 
beyond the modest military proposals in the original. The most reasonable as- 
sumption is that the annex was drawn up in response to comments at the April 
27 NSC meeting at which the Report was to have been considered, but which 
turned out to be devoted to the by-then acute state of the crisis in Laos. On the 
grounds that the neutralization of Laos would solidify communists de facto 
control of eastern Laos (including the mountain passes which were the historic 
invasion route to southern Vietnam), the annex advocated U.S. support for a 
two-division increase in the RVNAF. To rapidly train these forces, there was 
now a recommendation on U.S. manpower commitments that dwarted the 
previous recommendation for a MAAG increase: specifically, a 1600-man 
training team for each of the two new divisions, plus a 400-man special forces 
contingent to speed up counter-insurgency training fot the South Vietnamese 
forces: a total of 3600 men, not counting the MAAG increase already author- 

It is interesting that in the annex this force increase (and the bulk of the U.S. 
troop commitment) was specifically justified as insurance against a conventional 
invasion of South Vietnam. Some earlier drafts show the evolution of this con- 
cept. There is an alternate draft, apparently by Lansdale, which was not used 
but which recommended a U.S. troop commitment as reassurance to the Viet- 
namese of U.S. determination to stand by them. It did not recommend any in- 
crease in South Vietnamese forces. Instead, it stressed very heavily the damage 
to U.S. prestige and the credibility of our guarantees to other countries in 
Southeast Asia should we go through with the Laos settlement without taking 
some strong action to demonstrate that we were finally drawing a line in South- 
east Asia. 

Contrasting sharply with Lansdale's draft was the first draft of the paper 
that was finally issued. This was by Gilpatric's military aide, Col. E.F. Black. 
It concludes that South Vietnamese forces would have to be increased by two 
divisions, mainly to deal with threat of increased infiltration. Black stressed 
that the President would have to decide that the US would no longer be bound 
by the limitations of the 1954 Geneva Agreements (which Defense had long 
been lobbying against). But his paper recommends no substantial troop com- 
mitment. The reference to the Geneva Agreements apparently referred to a 
relatively modest increase in manpower beyond the 685-man ceiling, and to the 
introduction of new types of equipment not in Vietnam in 1954. 

So the record contains three versions of the Annex — Black's first draft, 
Lansdale's alternate draft, and then Black's revised paper, which was finally 
issure as the annex to the Report. The effect of considering them all is an odd 
one. The initial Black paper recommends an increase in Vietnamese forces to 
deal with the infiltration problem, but no substantial US troop commitment. 
The Lansdale alternative recommends a substantial US troop commitment, but 
no increase in Vietnamese forces. The final paper recommends both the 
RVNAF increase and the US troop commitments, but changes the reason for 
each: the reason for the RVNAF increase became a need for better protection 
against overt invasion, not an increased infiltration threat. And the reason for 
the US troop commitment became a desire to rapidly train the new Vietnamese 
troops, not for political reassurance. 

If taken literally, all of this implies an extraordinarily rapid series of reap- 
praisals and reversals of judgment. But surely, the only realistic interpretation 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 41 

is that in this case (because a series of rough drafts happens to be included in 
the available file) we are getting a glimpse at the way such staff paperwork 
really gets drafted, as opposed to the much more orderly impression that is 
given if we saw only the finished products. Gilpatric (undoubtedly in consulta- 
tion with at least McNamara, although the files do not show any record of this) 
was presumably interested primarily in what recommendations to make to the 
President, and secondarily in providing a bureaucratically suitable rationale for 
those recommendations. This rationale may, or may not, have coincided with 
whatever more private explanation of the recommendations that McNamara or 
Gilpatric may have conveyed to the President or people like McGeorge Bundy 
and Rostow on the White House staff. The lesson in this, which will not come 
as a surprise to anyone who has ever had contact with the policy-making proc- 
ess, is that the rationales given in such pieces of paper (intended for fairly wide 
circulation among the bureaucracy, as opposed to tightly held memoranda 
limited to those closest to the decision-maker) do not reliably indicate why 
recommendations were made the way they were. 


Meanwhile, Kennedy, as noted earlier, did not act on the annex at the 
April 29 meeting when he approved the much more modest military proposals 
of the basic Report. But on that day, there was a cable alerting CINCPAC 
to be ready to move 5000-men task forces to Udorn, Thailand, and to Touraine, 
(Da Nang), South Vietnam. Classified records available for this study do not 
explain this alert. But the public memoirs indirectly refer to it, and as would 
be expected, the alert was intended as a threat to intervene in Laos if the com- 
munists failed to go through with the cease fire which was to precede the Geneva 
Conference. Here is the cable: 




JCS DA 995131 From JCS. 

1. Request you prepare plans to move brigade size forces of approximately 
5,000 each into Udorn or vicinity and into Tourane or vicinity. Forces 
should include all arms and appropriate air elements. Plans should be 
based solely on US forces at this time. 

2. Decision to make these deployments not firm. It is expected that decision 
as to Thailand will be made at meeting tentatively scheduled here on Mon- 
day. Decision regarding Vietnam will be even later due to consideration 
of Geneva Accords. 

3. It is hoped that these movements can be given SEATO cover but such 
possibility must be explored before becoming a firm element of your plan- 
ning. State is taking action to explore this aspect. 

4. Decision was not repeat not reached today concerning implementation 
of SEATO Plan 5/60. 




42 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

The crisis in Laos was now at its peak. According to Schlesinger's account, 
reports reached Washington April 26 that the Pathet Lao were attacking 
strongly, with the apparent intention of grabbing most of the country before 
the cease-fire went into effect. At 10 p.m. that night, the JCS sent out a "general 
advisory" to major commands around the world, and specifically alerted CINC- 
PAC to be prepared to undertake airstrikes against North Vietnam, and possibly 
southern China. 

The next day — the day the Task Force Report came to the President — there 
were prolonged crisis meetings in the White House. The President later called 
in Congressional leaders, who advised against putting troops into Laos. Schlesin- 
ger quotes Rostow as telling him the NSC meeting that day was "the worst 
White House meeting he had ever attended in the entire Kennedy administra- 

The Laos annex to the Gilpatric Report was issued on the 28th, in an atmos- 
phere wholly dominated by the crisis in Laos. On the 29th, Kennedy's go-ahead 
on the Task Force's original military recommendations was squeezed into a day 
overwhelmingly devoted to Laos. This was the day of the cable, just cited, alert- 
ing CINCPAC for troop movements to Thailand and possibly Vietnam. The 
"SEATO Plan 5/60" referred to in the closing paragraph of the cable was the 
plan for moving major units into Laos. 

On May 1 (the Monday meeting referred to in the cable), Kennedy again 
deferred any decision on putting troops into Laos. According to available ac- 
counts, there is a strong sense by now (although no formal decision) that the 
U.S. would not go into Laos: that if the cease-fire failed, we would make a 
strong stand, instead, in Thailand and Vietnam. (On the 28th, in a speech to a 
Democratic dinner in Chicago, the President had hinted at this: 

We are prepared to meet our obligations, but we can only defend the 
freedom of those who are determined to be free themselves. We can assist 
them — we will bear more than our share of the burden, but we can only 
help those who are ready to bear their share of the burden themselves. 

Reasonable qualifications, undoubtedly, but ones that seemed to suggest that 
intervention in Laos would be futile. On Sunday (the 30th), another hint came 
in remarks by Senator Fulbright on a TV interview show: he opposed inter- 
vention in Laos, and said he was confident the government was seeking "an- 
other solution." 

So the decision anticipated Monday, May 1, in the JCS cable to CINCPAC 
was not made that day after all. But that day a new draft of the Task Force 
Report was issued. It contained only the significant change (other than blending 
the April 28 annex into the basic paper). The original draft contained a para- 
graph (under "political objectives") recommending we "obtain the political 
agreement [presumably from the SEATO membership! needed to permit the 
prompt implementation of SEATO contingency plans providing for military 
intervention in South Vietnam should this become necessary to prevent the 
loss of the country to Communism." 

In the May 1 revision, the following sentence was added to the paragraph: 
"The United States should be prepared to intervene unilaterally in fulfillment 
of its commitment under Article IV, 2. of Manila Pact, and should make its 
determination to do so clear through appropriate public statements, diplomatic 
discussions, troop deployments, or other means." (The cited clause in the Manila 
(SEATO) Pact, which the paper did not quote, 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 43 

If, in the opinion of any of the Parties, the inviolability or the integrity 
of the territory or the sovereignty or political independence of any Party 
in the treaty area or of any other State or territory to which the provisions 
of paragraph 1 of this Article from time to time apply is threatened in any 
way other than by armed attack or is affected or threatened by any fact or 
situation which might endanger the peace of the area, the Parties shall 
consult immediately in order to agree on the measures which should be 
taken for the common defense.) 

The May 1 draft also cleared up, or papered over, part of the confusion 
described earlier regarding the rationale for the military measures recommended 
in the Laos annex: the increased RVNAF force levels were attributed now both 
to concern over increased infiltration and to concern over overt invasion. But 
the US troop commitments are still described solely as for training, with no 
mention of the original political rationale. 


Lansdale circulated the May 1 draft among the Task Force, with a note that 
comments should be in May 2, with a final Task Force review scheduled the 
morning of May 3, all in anticipation of an NSC meeting on the paper May 4. 

George Ball, then Deputy Under Secretary of State, asked to postpone the 
meeting for a day. Lansdale sent Gilpatric a memorandum opposing the post- 
ponement. "It seems to me that George Ball could appoint someone to repre- 
sent him at the meeting, and if he has personal or further comments they could 
come to us later in the day at his convenience." But Gilpatric delayed the meet- 
ing a day, and State produced a drastic revision of the paper. 

On the organizational issues, the State draft was brutally clearcut. It pro- 
posed a new version of the Gilpatric memorandum transmtiting the Report, 
in which: 

1. The paragraph (quoted earlier) describing Lansdale's special role is 

2. A new paragraph is added to the end of the memorandum, in which Gil- 
patric is made to say: "Having completed its assignment ... I recom- 
mend that the present Task Force be now dissolved." 

Later sections of the paper were revised accordingly, giving responsibility for 
coordinating Vietnam policy to a new Task Force with George Ball as chairman. 
(In the final version, the Task Force has a State Department director, but no 
longer included Presidential appointees representing their departments. The 
whole Task Force idea had been downgraded to a conventional interagency 
working group. Although it continued to function for several years, there will 
be little occasion to mention it again in this paper.) 

State's proposal on organization prevailed. From the record available, the 
only thing that can be said definitely is that State objected, successfully, to 
having an Ambassador report to a Task Force chaired by the Deputy Secretary 
of Defense, and with a second defense official (Lansdale) as executive officer. 
There may have been more to it. We know Lansdale's experience and his ap- 
proach to guerrilla warfare initially won him a good deal of favor at the White 
House. But his memorandum suggest that his ideas on a number of issues (sup- 
port for Phoumi in Laos, liberation of North Vietnam, essentially unqualified 

44 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

support for Diem in South Vietnam) went well beyond what the Administra- 
tion judged reasonable. So it is quite possible that the President would have 
had second thoughts on Lansdale, aside from State's objections on bureau- 
cratic grounds. 

In any event, Lansdale's reaction to State's proposal on organization was to 
advise McNamara and Gilpatric that: 

My strong recommendation is that Defense stay completely out of the 
Task Force directorship as now proposed by State . . . Having a Defense 
officer, myself or someone else, placed in a position of only partial in- 
fluence and of no decision permissibility would be only to provide State 
with a scapegoat to share the blame when we have a flop . . . The US 
past performance and theory of action, which State apparently desires 
to continue, simply offers no sound basis for winning, as desired by Presi- 
dent Kennedy. 

But the final version of the Task Force Report, dated May 6, followed very 
closely the State revision submitted May 3, including the shift in control of the 
Task Force, [see also Doc. 87] 


What is most striking about the revised drafts is that they excluded a tone 
of almost unqualified commitment to Vietnam, yet on the really important 
issues included qualifications which left the President a great deal of freedom 
to decide whatever he pleased without having to formally overrule the Task 
Force Report. 

For example, the assertion (from the April draft) that the US should impress 
on friend and foe that "come what may, we intend to win" remained in the 
final paper. But this hortatory language is from the introduction; it described 
one of the effects the program in the balance of the paper was supposed to 
achieve, but did not ask the President to do or say anything not spelled out in 
the body of the paper. (We will see, when we come to the fall decisions, that 
the wisdom of an unqualified commitment to save Vietnam from Communism 
is treated afresh, with no suggestion that any such decision had already been 
made in May.) 

On the other hand, the explicit recommendation in the Defense draft that 
we make clear our "determination ... to intervene unilaterally . . . should 
this become necessary to save the country from communism . . ." was dropped. 
Instead, there is a recommendation for exploring a "new bilateral arrangement" 
which might (the text is not explicit) extend to fighting the guerrillas, if that 
should become necessary to save the country, but also might only cover overt 
North Vietnamese invasion. 

Further, the need for these arrangements was now tied to the "loss" of Laos. 
The May 3 draft suggests we "undertake military security arrangements which 
establish beyond doubt our intention to stand behind Vietnam's resistance to 
Communism . . ." since "it is doubtful whether the Vietnamese Government 
can weather the pressures which are certain to be generated from the loss of 
Laos without prompt, and dramatic support for its security from the U.S." 

In the May 6 final draft, "establish beyond doubt" was toned down to 
"emphasize" and the flat reference to the loss of Laos was changed to "if 
Laos were lost." 

Similarly, the recommendations on the two new South Vietnamese divisions, 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 45 

and the two 1600-man US combat units to train them was described as a firm 
recommendation in the military section of the May 3 draft (which State left 
untouched from the Defense version), but were indirectly referred to as 
something for study in State's re-drafted political section. In the final paper, 
they were still firm recommendations in a military annex, but not in the main 
paper, where Defense was only described as studying this and other uses for 
US troops short of direct commitment against the guerrillas. US troop commit- 
ments were no longer recommended, only referred to as something "which 
might result from an NSC decision following discussions between Vice President 
Johnson [whose mission to Asia had been announced May 5] and President 

Yet an interesting aspect of the State redraft is that, although its main im- 
pact was to soften the commitments implied in the Defense draft, a quick read- 
ing might give the contrary impression. We will see this same effect in the po- 
litical sections to be discussed below. What seems to happen is that the very de- 
tail of the State treatment creates a strong impression, even though the actual 
proposals are less drastic and more qualified than those proposed by Defense. 
The contrast is all the sharper because the Defense draft leaned the other 
way. For example, the profoundly significant recommendation that the US 
commit itself to intervene unilaterally, if necessary, to prevent a Viet Cong 
victory in South Vietnam, is tossed into the Defense version most casually, 
with a reference to the Manila Treaty that makes it sound as if such a commit- 
ment, in fact, already existed. 

In contrast, here is the State language referring to the proposed bilateral 
treaty (which in effect is a substitute for the Defense proposed unlimited uni- 
lateral commitment) : 

The Geneva Accords have been totally inadequate in protecting South 
Vietnam against Communist infiltration and insurgency. Moreover, with 
increased Communist success in Laos dramatic US actions in stiffening up 
its physical support of Vietnam and the remainder of Southeast Asia may 
be needed to bolster the will to continue to resist the Communists. The inhibi- 
tions imposed on such action by certain parts of the Geneva Accords, 
which have been violated with impunity by the Communists, should not pre- 
vent our action. We should consider joining with the Vietnamese in a clear- 
cut defensive alliance which might include stationing of US forces on Viet- 
namese soil. As a variant of this arrangement certain SEATO troops 
might also be employed. 

Bilateral military assistance by the United States pursuant to a request by 
South Vietnam along the lines of that undertaken during 1958 in response 
to the request by Lebanon for military assistance, would be in keeping with 
international law and treaty provisions. The provisions of the Geneva 
Accords of 1954, which prohibited the introduction of additional military 
arms and personnel into Vietnam, would not be a bar to the measures con- 
templated. The obvious, large-scale and continuous violation of these pro- 
visions of the Geneva Accords by North Vietnam in introducing large 
numbers of armed guerrillas into South Vietnam would justify the corre- 
sponding non-observance of these provisions by South Vietnam. Indeed, au- 
thorization for changing PEO Laos into an ordinary MAAG was justified 
on this legal theory. It should be recognized that the foregoing proposals re- 
quire careful and detailed consideration and preparation particularly with 
regard to the precise mission of US forces used. 

46 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

In addition to the previously cited advantages such an action might have 
at least two other important political and military advantages: 

(a) It could release a portion of the ARVN from relatively static mili- 
tary functions to pursue the war against the insurgents and 

(b) It would place the Sino-Soviet Bloc in the position of risking direct 
intervention in a situation where US forces were already in place, accept- 
ing the consequence of such action. This is in direct contrast to the cur- 
rent situation in Laos. 

Alternatively, there are several potential political and military disadvan- 
tages to such an action, principal among these being: 

(a) Some of the neutrals, notably India, might well be opposed, and 
the attitude of the UK and France is uncertain. 

(b) This would provide the Communists with a major propaganda op- 

(c) The danger that a troop contribution would provoke a DRV/ 
CHICOM reaction with the risk of involving a significant commitment of 
US force in the Pacific to the Asian mainland. The French tied up some 
200,000 troops during the unsuccessful Indo-China effort. 

This might significantly weaken the Diem regime in the long run, having 
in mind the parallel of Rhee in Korea. 

This language is not solely the State Department's. In a Gilpatric memo to be 
cited shortly, we will see that the JCS, for example, had a hand in describing 
the role for US troops. Even so, the overall effect of the draft, as already noted, 
tones down very drastically the commitment implied by the May 1 Defense 
version : 

1. The proposal is no longer for a unilateral, unlimited commitment 
to save Vietnam from communism. It only proposes consideration of a new 
treaty with South Vietnam (unlike the Defense draft which proposed read- 
ing a unilateral commitment into the existing Manila Treaty); and its pur- 
pose is to "bolster the will" of the South Vietnamese to resist the commu- 
nists, not (as the Defense draft apparently meant) to guarantee that the 
US would join the war should the South Vietnamese effort prove inade- 

2. It gives pro and con arguments for sending US troops, in contrast 
to the Defense draft which included a flat recommendation to send at 
least the 3600 men of the two division training teams and the special 
forces training team. 

A reasonable judgment, consequently, is that State thought the Defense draft 
went too far in committing the US on Vietnam. (And in view of the positions 
he would take in 1965, George Ball's role as senior State representative on the 
Task Force obviously further encourages that interpretation.) But that is only 
a judgment. It is also possible to argue, in contrast, that perhaps State (or State 
plus whatever White House influence may have gone into the draft) simply 
was tidying up the Defense proposals: for example, that the redrafters felt that 
a new bilateral treaty would be a firmer basis for a commitment to save Viet- 
nam than would reliance on a reinterpretation of the SEATO Treaty. Similar 
arguments can be made on the other points noted above. 

Consequently, on any question about the intent of the redrafters, only a judg- 
ment and not a statement of fact can be provided. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 47 

But on the question of the effect of the redraft, a stronger statement can be 
made: for whatever the intent of the redrafters, the effect certainly was to 
weaken the commitments implied by the Defense draft, and leave the President 
a great deal of room for maneuver without having to explicitly overrule the 
recommendations presented to him. 


To return to a question of judgement, it is difficult to assess how far this 
gradual hedging of proposals for very strong commitments to Vietnam simply 
reflected a desire (very probably encouraged by the White House) to leave the 
President freedom of action. To some extent it surely reflects a growing hope 
that perhaps the Laos cease-fire would come off; the country would not be flatly 
lost; and consequently, that the May 1 Defense draft, and even the May 3 State 
draft, reflected a somewhat panicky overestimate of how far we needed to go 
to keep Southeast Asia from falling apart. The two motives obviously overlapped. 

There are indications that, as late as May 5, the estimate for saving some- 
thing out of Laos remained bleak. On May 4, after a visit to the President, Sen- 
ator Fullbright (who had opposed intervention in Laos along with other Con- 
gressional leaders) announced from the steps of the White House that he 
would support troop commitments to Thailand and Vietnam. An NSC meeting 
the following day (May 5) was devoted to discussing steps to reassure Vietnam 
and Thailand. Then in the afternoon, the President announced Vice President 
Johnson's visit to Asia at a press conference, which included this garbled ex- 

Q. Mr. President, there have been reports that you would be prepared to 
send American forces into South Vietnam if that became necessary to 
prevent Communist domination of that country. Could you tell us whether 
that is correct, and also anything else you have regarding plans for that 

A. Well, we have had a group working in the government and we have 
had a Security Council meeting about the problems which are faced in 
Vietnam by the guerrillas and by the barrage which the present govern- 
ment is being subjected to. The problem of troops is a matter — the matter 
of what we are going to do to assist Vietnam to obtain [retain?] its in- 
dependence is a matter under consideration. There are a good many 
[issues?] which I think can most usefully wait until we have had consulta- 
tions with the government, which up to the present time — which will be 
one of the matters which Vice President Johnson will deal with; the prob- 
lem of consultations with the Government of Vietnam as to what further 
steps could most usefully be taken. 

On May 8, the reconstituted International Control Commission (established by 
the Geneva Agreement of 1954) arrived in Laos, hoping to supervise a cease- 
fire. The cease-fire had been agreed to in principle by both sides as early as May 
1. The question was whether the Pathet Lao would really stop advancing. Aside 
from American intervention, a cease-fire was the only hope of the larger, but 
less effective, pro- Western forces led by Phoumi. Certainly hopes were higher 
by the 8th than they were a week earlier, but this might not be saying much. 
The documentary record is ambiguous. The final draft of the letter Vice 
President Johnson would deliver to Diem was dated May 8, and in this letter 

48 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

Kennedy did not go much beyond the proposals in the April 27 version of the 
task force report. There was no mention of U.S. troop commitments, nor of a 
bilateral treaty. Even on the question of a further increase (beyond 170,000) 
in the RVNAF, Kennedy promised Diem only that this will be "considered 
carefully with you, if developments should so warrant." 

But the same day, Gilpatric sent a memo to the JCS asking their views on 
U.S. troops in Vietnam: 

... In preparation for the possible commitment of U.S. forces to Viet- 
nam, it is desired that you give further review and study of the military 
advisability of such action, as well as to the size and composition of such 
U.S. forces. Your views, which I hope could include some expression from 
CINCPAC, would be valuable for consideration prior to the NSC meeting 
this week (currently scheduled for Friday, May 12). 

This in turn was based on a statement in the May 6 Task Force draft, which said 
that such a study was being carried out, with particular consideration being 
given to deploying to South Vietnam 

. . . two U.S. battle groups (with necessary command and logistics 
units), plus an engineer (construction-combat) battalion. These units 
would be located in the "high plateau" region, remote from the major popu- 
lation center of Saigon-Cholon, under the command of the Chief, MAAG. 
To help accelerate the training of the G.V.N, army, they would establish 
two divisional field training areas. The engineer battalion would undertake 
construction of roads, air-landing strips and other facilities essential to the 
logistical support of the U.S. and Vietnamese forces there. 

The purpose of these forces (again, from the May 6 draft) would be to 

. . . provide maximum psychological impact in deterrence of further 
Communist aggression from North Vietnam, China, or the Soviet Union, 
while rallying the morale of the Vietnamese and encouraging the support 
of SEATO and neutral nations for Vietnam's defense; 

— release Vietnamese forces from advanced and static defense positions to 

permit their fuller commitment to counterinsurgency actions; 
— provide maximum training to approved Vietnamese forces; and 
— provide significant military resistance to potential North Vietnam Com- 
munist and/or Chinese Communist action. 

The JCS reply, dated May 10, deferred details on the composition of U.S. 
forces, but quite emphatically recommended that we do send them, "assuming 
the political decision is to hold Southeast Asia outside the communist sphere." 
Here is the JCS memo : 

In considering the possible commitment of U.S. forces to South Viet- 
nam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the overall critical situation 
in Southeast Asia with particular emphasis upon the present highly flam- 
mable situation in South Vietnam. In this connection the question, how- 
ever, of South Vietnam should not be considered in isolation but rather in 
conjunction with Thailand and their overall relationship to the security of 
Southeast Asia. The views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the question re- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 49 

garding the development of U.S. forces into Thailand were provided to you 
BY JCSM-3 11-61, dated 9 May 1961. The current potentially dangerous 
military and political situation in Laos, of course, is the focal point in this 
area. Assuming that the political decision is to hold Southeast Asia outside 
the Communist sphere, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that 
U.S. forces should be deployed immediately to South Vietnam; such action 
should be taken primarily to prevent the Vietnamese from being subjected 
to the same situation as presently exists in Laos, which would then re- 
quired deployment of U.S. forces into an already existing combat situation. 

In view of the foregoing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the 
decision be made to deploy suitable U.S. forces to South Vietnam. Suffi- 
cient forces should be deployed to accomplish the following purposes: 

Provide a visible deterrent to potential North Vietnam and/or Chinese 
Communist action; 

Release Vietnamese forces from advanced and static defense positions 
to permit their fuller commitment to counterinsurgency actions; 

Assist in training the Vietnamese forces to the maximum extent possible 
consistent with their mission; 

Provide a nucleus for the support of any additional U.S. or SEATO 
military operation in Southeast Asia; and 

Indicate the firmness of our intent to all Asian nations. 

In order to maintain U.S. flexibility in the Pacific, it is envisioned that 
some or all of the forces deployed to South Vietnam would come from 
the United States. The movement of these troops could be accomplished 
in an administrative manner and thus not tax the limited lift capabilities 

In order to accomplish the foregoing the Joint Chiefs of Staff recom- 
mend that: 

President Diem be encouraged to request that the United States fulfill 
its SEATO obligation, in view of the new threat now posed by the Laotian 
situation, by the immediate deployment of appropriate U.S forces to South 

Upon receipt of this request, suitable forces could be immediately de- 
ployed to South Vietnam in order to accomplish the above-mentioned 
purpose. Details of size and composition of these forces must include the 
views of both CINCPAC and CHMAAG which are not yet available. 

The NSC meeting that dealt with the Task Force Report was held the next 
day (the 11th, rather than the 12th as originally anticipated). The President 
avoided committing himself on the troop issue any further than he had already 
been committed by the time of his May 5 press conference. The resulting NSAM 
52 [Doc. 88] (signed by McGeorge Bundy) states only that: 

The President directs full examination by the Defense Department under 
the guidance of the Director of the continuing Task Force on Vietnam, of 
the size and composition of forces which would be desirable in the case 
of a possible commitment of U.S. forces to Vietnam." (The Task Force Di- 
rector at this point referred to Sterling Cottrell, a Foreign Service Officer, 
rather than to Gilpatric.) 

So the President went no further, really, than to take note of a study that was 
already well underway. The record does not help us judge what significance to 

50 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

attach to the qualification that the study be done under the guidance of the 
State Department officer now heading the Task Force. 

On other issues relating to our military commitments the President again, 
with minor alterations, endorsed the proposals of the May 6 draft. On the ques- 
tion of a formal alliance with South Vietnam NSAM 52 reports that: 

The Ambassador is authorized to begin negotiations looking toward a 
new bilateral arrangement with Vietnam, but no firm commitment will be 
made to such an arrangement without further review by the President. 

The President also "confirmed" the decisions quoted earlier accepting the 
April 27 military recommendations, and accepted the following further recom- 
mendations (all from the May 6 report) "with the objective of meeting the in- 
creased security threat resulting from the new situation along the frontier be- 
tween Laos and Vietnam." 

1. Assist the G.V.N, armed forces to increase their border patrol and 
insurgency suppression capabilities by establishing an effective border in- 
telligence and patrol system, by instituting regular aerial surveillance over 
the entire frontier area, and by applying modern technological area-denial 
techniques to control the roads and trails along Vietnam's borders. A spe- 
cial staff element (approximately 6 U.S. personnel), to concentrate upon 
solutions to the unique problems of Vietnam's borders, will be activated in 
MAAG, Vietnam, to assist a similar special unit in the RVNAF which the 
G.V.N, will be encouraged to establish; these two elements working as an 
integrated team will help the G.V.N, gain the support of nomadic tribes and 
other border inhabitants, as well as introduce advanced techniques and 
equipment to strengthen the security of South Vietnam's frontiers. 

2. Assist the G.V.N, to establish a Combat Development and Test Cen- 
ter in South Vietnam to develop, with the help of modern technology, new 
techniques for use against the Viet Cong forces (approximately 4 U.S. per- 

3. Assist the G.V.N, forces with health, welfare and public work proj- 
ects by providing U.S. Army civic action mobile training teams, coordinated 
with the similar civilian effort (approximately 14 U.S. personnel). 

4. Deploy a Special Forces Group (approximately 400 personnel) to 
Nha Trang in order to accelerate G.V.N. Special Forces training. The first 
increment, for immediate deployment to Vietnam, should be a Special 
Forces company (52 personnel). 

5. Instruct JCS, CINCPAC, and MAAG to undertake an assessment of 
the military utility of a further increase in the G.V.N, forces from 170,000 
to 200,000 in order to create two new division equivalents for deploy- 
ment to the northeast border region. The parallel political and fiscal implica- 
tions should be assessed. 

In general Kennedy did not seem to have committed the U.S., by these de- 
cisions, significantly further than the U.S. had already been committed by the 
President's public speeches and remarks at press conferences. In the expanded 
military aid program approved by the President, there was no item that com- 
mitted the U.S. any further than we had gone in the case of Laos (that is, be- 
yond providing advisors, materiel, and some covert combat assistance). 

A debatable exception was the decision to send 400 special forces troops to 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 51 

speed training of their South Vietnamese counterparts. The idea of sending 
some Green Berets antedates the Task Force effort. Rostow mentioned it in 
his April 12 memo, quoted above. It can be argued whether it was really prudent 
to view this decision as separable from the "combat troops" issue (which also 
were being considered nominally, at least, for training, not necessarily combat). 
But obviously the President was sold on their going, and since the Vietnamese 
Special Forces were themselves supported by CIA rather than the regular mili- 
tary aid program, it was possible to handle these troops covertly. In any event, 
althought there would eventually be 1200 Green Berets in Vietnam (before the 
first commitment of U.S. combat units) they were apparently never cited as a 
precedent for or a commitment to a more overt role in the war. 

These, then, were the measures relating to military commitments undertaken 
as a result of the April/May review. The principle objective of these measures 
(together with the non-military elements of the program) as stated in the Task 
Force report, and formally adopted in the NSAM, was "to prevent Communist 
domination of Vietnam." There was no uncertainty about why these steps were 
taken: quite aside from the Administration's strong feelings that we had to 
deal with the challenge of wars of national liberation, the program adopted 
seems quite minimal as a response to what was — even after the cease-fire was 
confirmed — a serious setback in Laos. No one in the government, and no one 
of substantial influence outside it, questioned the need for some action to hold 
things together in Southeast Asia. 

For the fact was that our stake in Vietnam had increased because of what 
had been happening in Laos, quite aside from anything that we did or said. Col- 
lapse in Vietnam would be worse after Laos than it might have seemed before. 
And to do nothing after Laos would not really have made the U.S. look better 
if Vietnam fell; it would only have increased the likelihood both that that would 
happen, and greatly increased the extent to which the U.S. (and within U.S. 
politics, the Kennedy Administration) would be blamed for the collapse. 

The Laotian situation did not even provide, then, a precedent for seeking to 
settle the Vietnamese situation through the same coalition government route. 
For in Laos, the pro-U.S. faction was plainly being defeated militarily in open 
battle despite a good deal of U.S. aid. The only U.S. alternative to accepting 
the coalition solution was to take over the war ourselves. Further, there was a 
strong neutralist faction in Laos, which could provide a premier for the govern- 
ment and at least a veneer of hope that the settlement might be something 
more than a face-saving way of handing the country over to the communist 

Neither of these conditions held for Vietnam, aside from all the other factors 
reviewed in the introduction to this paper which left the Administration no 
realistic option in the neutralist direction, even assuming that there was any 
temptation at that time to move in that direction. To have simply given up on 
Vietnam at that point, before any major effort had been attempted to at least 
see if the situation could be saved at reasonable cost, seems to have been, even 
with the hindsight we now have, essentially out of the question. 

That is why, in the context of the time, the commitments Kennedy actually 
made seem like a near-minimal response which avoided any real deepening of 
our stake in Vietnam. 

There is far more of a problem with the things that we decided to talk about 
(troops, and a formal treaty with Vietnam) than with the measures Kennedy 
fully endorsed. Certainly putting troops into Vietnam would increase our 
stake in the outcome, rather than merely help protect the stake we already had. 

52 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

So, surely, would a formal treaty, even if the treaty nominally required U.S. 
support only in the case of overt invasion. How much so would depend on the 
nature of the troop commitments and the nature of the treaty. But, as we will 
see in the next chapter (in reviewing Vice President Johnson's visit) Diem 
turned out to want neither troops nor a treaty for the time being. And so these 
issues were deferred until the fall. 

Aside from questions relating to our commitments to Vietnam, there were 
also the parallel questions relating to our commitment, if any, to Diem. As 
noted in the introduction, discussions about Vietnam always had this dual 
aspect, and this part of the problem was treated with increasing explicitness as 
time went on (and as the Administration got to know Diem better). In the CIP, 
it was treated essentially by implication. In the Gilpatric/Lansdale draft of 
April 26, it was also handled that way: no explicit statement of a change in our 
relations with Diem was offered, although by implication it was there. 

Where the CIP (by implication) saw our increased aid as contingent on 
Diem's performance, the April 26 program left out any suggestion of a quid pro 
quo. To the contrary, it simply states that "those portions of the plan which are 
agreed to by the G.V.N, will be implemented as rapidly as possible." 

And where the CIP saw Diem's government as our best hope "at the pres- 
ent time" this note of limited commitment to Diem is dropped in the April 26 
draft. Instead we have a bland statement that we will "assist the GVN under 
President Diem to develop within the country the widest consensus of public 
support for a government dedicated to resisting communist domination." [em- 
phasis added] 

The May 3 State draft and the May 6 final draft dealt with this issue much as 
they had with the questions of military commitments: that is, these did not so 
much conspicuously weaken the proposals of the Gilpatric/Lansdale version, 
as to qualify and elaborate on them in ways that in effect (again, we cannot 
make a statement on intent) left the President a ready option to reconsider his 
position. State explicitly asserted that we were changing our policy on Diem, 
and spelled out some reasons for doing so. 

Here are some extracts from the May 6 final draft; (the language is essentially 
the same in the May 3 draft) . 

... we must continue to work through the present Vietnamese govern- 
ment despite its acknowledged weakness. No other remotely feasible al- 
ternative exists at this point in time which does not involve an unaccept- 
able degree of risk. . . . Diem is not now fully confident of United States 
support. This confidence has been undermined partly by our vigorous ef- 
forts to get him to mend his ways, and partly by the equivocal attitude he 
is convinced we took at the time of the November 11, 1960, attempted 
coup. It is essential that President Diem's full confidence in and communi- 
cation with the United States be restored promptly . . . Given Diem's 
personality and character and the abrasive nature of our recent relation- 
ships, success or failure in this regard will depend very heavily on Ambas- 
sador Nolting's ability to get on the same wavelength with Diem . . . 

The chief threat to the viability of President Diem's administration is, 
without a doubt, the fact of communist insurgency and the government's 
inability to protect its own people. Thus military measures must have the 
highest priority. There is, nevertheless, strong discontent with the govern- 
ment among not only the elite but among peasants, labor, and business. 
Criticism focuses on the dynastic aspects of the Diem rule, on its clandes- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 53 

tine political apparatus, and on the methods through which the President 
exercises his leadership. This is aggravated by Communist attempts to dis- 
credit the President and weaken his government's authority. All this is 
made the easier because of a communications void existing between the 
government and the people. For many months United States efforts have 
been directed toward persuading Diem to adopt political, social, and eco- 
nomic changes designed to correct this serious defect. Many of these changes 
are included in the Counterinsurgency Plan. Our success has been only 
partial. There are those who consider that Diem will not succeed in the 
battle to win men's minds in Vietnam. 

Thus in giving priority emphasis to the need for internal security, we 
must not relax in our efforts to persuade Diem of the need for political 
social and economic progress. If his efforts are inadequate in this field our 
overall objective could be seriously endangered and we might once more 
find ourselves in the position of shoring a leader who had lost the support 
of his people. 

Although the paper expresses the hope that through "very astute dealings" 
("a combination of positive inducements plus points at which discreet pressure 
can be exercised") Diem could be successfully worked with, the net effect of the 
State draft is hardly enthusiastic. The paper tells the President that his Task 
Force "believes" that the policy will work. But it is a large order: for the aim 
had been referred to as nothing less than "a major alteration in the present 
government structure or in its objectives." 

In effect, the silence on Diem in the Gilpatric/Lansdale draft was replaced 
by a detailed statement which, in the course of reaffirming the need to take 
prompt steps to show confidence in Diem, nevertheless leaves the strong impres- 
sion that we really did not have much confidence in him at all. Support for Diem 
became tactical: based explicitly on the hope that he might reform, and im- 
plicitly on the fact that trying to overthrow him would be terribly risky in the 
aftermath of Laos, even if the U.S. had someone to overthrow him with. Fur- 
ther, although the paper explicitly conceded first priority to military needs, 
there was a strong argument that military efforts alone will not be enough. 

It was apparently this equivocal attitude toward Diem (aside from any per- 
sonal considerations) that led to Lansdale's prediction that State could never 
"win this battle." Thus in the main paper of the May 6 draft the general polit- 
ical objective was stated as: 

Develop political and economic conditions which will create a solid and 
widespread support among the key political groups and the general popu- 
lation for a Vietnam which has the will to resist Communist encroach- 
ment and which in turn stems from a stake in a freer and more democratic 

Lansdale, in a pencilled comment to Gilpatric, complained: 

The elected President of Vietnam is ignored in this statement as the base 
to build upon in countering the communists. This will have the U.S. pitted 
against Diem as first priority, the communists as second. 

Nevertheless, it seems that the May program went a very long way in Lansdale's 
preferred direction: although the U.S. was expanding its contribution to the 

54 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

Vietnamese effort it was no longer asking for any quid pro quo. The U.S. en- 
visioned "discreet pressure" but certainly not, for then anyway, any hint of 
withholding aid. The U.S. flatly asserted that it saw no "remotely acceptable 
alternative to Diem," for the time being, any way. The U.S. thought it vital that 
Diem do better, but increasing his confidence in the U.S. had top priority. The 
strongest guidance given the new Ambassador was to "get on Diem's wave- 

More of this tentative adoption of the Lansdale approach can be seen in the 
discussion of Vice President Johnson's trip (from the May 6 draft) : 

The Vice President's visit will provide the added incentive needed to 
give the GVN the motivation and confidence it needs to carry on the strug- 
gle. We believe that meetings between the Vice President and President 
Diem will act as a catalytic agent to produce broad agreement on the need 
for accelerated joint Vietnamese-U.S. actions to resist Communist en- 
croachment in SEA. These meetings will also serve to get across to Presi- 
dent Diem our confidence in him as a man of ereat stature and as one of 
the strong figures in SEA on whom we are placing our reliance. At the 
same time, these conferences should impress Diem with the degree of im- 
portance we attach to certain political and economic reforms in Vietnam 
which are an essential element in frustrating Communist encroachments. 
Recognizing the difficulties we have had in the past in persuading Diem 
to take effective action on such reforms, as specific an understanding as 
possible should be solicited from Diem on this point. 

It was this sort of guidance (plus, perhaps, a memo from Lansdale describ- 
ing President Diem in terms that bear comparison with those Jack Valenti would 
later use in connection with another President) that accounts for Johnson's 
famous reference to Diem as the Churchill of Asia. 

In sum, what emerges from the final version of the report is a sense that the 
U.S. had decided to take a crack at the Lansdale approach of trying to win Diem 
over with a strong display of personal confidence in him. What does not emerge 
is any strong sense that the Administration believed this new approach really 
had much hope of working, but undoubtedly this pessimistic reading is influenced 
by the hindsight now available. The drafters of the paper very probably saw 
themselves as hedging against the possible failure of the policy, rather than im- 
plying that it probably would not work. 

If we go beyond the paperwork, and ask what judgments might be made about 
the intent of the senior decision-makers, and particularly the President, it 
seems that here, even more than in connection with the military commitments 
discussed earlier, the Administration adopted a course which, whether in hind- 
sight the wisest available or not, probably seemed to have no practical alterna- 

Presumably the top level of the Administration believed there was at least 
some chance that the new policy toward Diem might produce useful results. 

But even to the extent this prospect seemed dim, there were political advan- 
tages (or at least political risks) avoided in giving this plan a try, and there must 
not have seemed (as even now there does not seem) to have been much cost 
in doing so. 

Finally, whatever the President thought of the prospects and political ad- 
vantages of this approach to Diem, it might have been hard at that time to see 
any drastically different alternative anyway. After all, the heart of the Laos em- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 55 

barrassment was that the U.S was (with some face-saving cover) dropping an 
anti-communist leader who had come into power with the indispensable assist- 
ance of the U.S. This dropping of Phoumi in Laos in favor of support for the 
neutralist government Phoumi had overthrown with U.S. encouragement and 
assistance remained an essential part of whatever outcome developed in Laos. 
In the wake of this embarrassment, the U.S. was now trying to reassure other 
governments in Southeast Asia. Was it possible to carry out this reassurance 
while threatening Diem, another anti-communist leader totally dependent on 
U.S. support, with withdrawal of our support (our only available form of pres- 
sure) unless he reformed himself according to U.S. prescription? Was this a 
prudent time to risk a coup in South Vietnam, which was the widely predicted 
effect of any show of lack of confidence in Diem? 

It is obviously impossible for us to strike a balance among these reasons (or 
perhaps some others) why the decisions were made the way they were. More 
interesting, though, is that it seems to have been unnecessary for even the de- 
cision-maker himself to strike such a balance. For it seems that whatever his 
view, the policy of trying to reassure Diem (rather than pressure him, or dis- 
sociating from him) seemed like a sensible tactic for the moment, and very pos- 
sible the only sensible tactic for that particular moment. 


At the end of September, Admiral Harry Felt, Commander-in-Chief of U.S. 
forces in the Pacific, stopped off in Saigon on his way to a SEATO meeting in 
Bangkok. Felt, Ambassador Nolting, and several of their senior aides met with 
Diem at Independence Palace, on the evening of the 29th. According to Nolt- 
ing's cable the following day: 

In course of long discussion . . . Diem pointed the question. He asked 
for a bilateral defense treaty with the U.S. This rather large and unex- 
pected request seemed to have been dragged in by the heels at the end of 
a far-ranging discussion, but we discovered upon questioning that it was 
seriously intended . . . 

Although the available record does not explicitly say so, this request pre- 
sumably triggered the intensive attention to Vietnam planning that began early 
in October (Nolting's cable arrived October 1) and led to the decision on the 
1 1th to send the Taylor Mission. 

The balance of this chapter reviews the major developments between the 
Presidential decisions on the Task Force Report (May 11) and the arrival of 
Nolting's cable on the treaty request (October 1 ). 


The available record tells us almost nothing about the Vice President's visit 
to Saigon beyond what is described in the public memoirs. We know from 
Nolting's cables that Johnson brought up the possibility of U.S. troops in Viet- 
nam and of a bilateral treaty after Diem (in an after-dinner conversation) began 
to talk about the problems that communist gains in Laos would create for him. 
We know that Diem replied that he wanted U.S. combat troops only in the 
event of open invasion and that he also did not show interest in a treaty. 

But we do not know what, if anything, Johnson was authorized to say if Diem 

56 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

had reacted affirmatively. And this could have ranged anywhere from at- 
tempting to discourage Diem if he did show interest, to offering some specific 
proposal and timetable. No strong inference can be drawn from the fact that 
Johnson, rather than Diem, raised the issue. Even if the President had decided 
against making troop commitments to Vietnam at that time, there would have 
been nothing outrageous about instructing Johnson to refer to such a possibility 
once Diem began to talk about his concerns due to Laos. After all, the whole 
point of the Johnson mission was to reassure Diem and other Asian leaders, that 
the U.S. could, despite Laos, be counted on in Asia. Simply reading the Ameri- 
can newspapers would have told Diem that at least as of May 5, the Admin- 
istration was seriously considering sending American troops to Vietnam, and 
that Johnson was expected to discuss this with Diem. A quite reasonable tactical 
judgment would have been that nothing would have been more likely to make 
Diem ask for U.S. troops than for Johnson to remain eerily silent on this issue. 

Consequently, on the record available, we can do no more than guess what 
would have happened if Diem reacted affirmatively at the time of Johnson's 
visit. The most reasonable guess is probably that the Taylor Mission, or some- 
thing equivalent, would have been undertaken in the spring, rather than in the 
fall, and nothing very much would have been different in the long run. But 
that is only a reasonable guess. 

For the rest, here are some extracts from a report Johnson wrote after his 
return. Essentially, Johnson argued for prompt moves by the U.S. to show sup- 
port for non-communist governments in Southeast Asia. He had in mind ex- 
panded conventional military and economic aid, and perhaps a new treaty to 
replace SEATO. But despite the shock of U.S. willingness to accept a coalition 
government in Laos, Johnson reported that U.S. troops were neither desired 
nor required. And although this might not always be the case, Johnson recom- 
mended that the U.S. "must remain master of this decision." 

The Impact of Laos 

There is no mistaking the deep — and long lasting — impact of recent 
developments in Laos. 

Country to country, the degree differs but Laos has created doubt and 
concern about intentions of the United States throughout Southeast Asia. 
No amount of success at Geneva can, of itself, erase this. The independent 
Asians do not wish to have their own status resolved in like manner in 

Leaders such as Diem, Chiang, Sarit and Ayub more or less accept that 
we are making "the best of a bad bargain" at Geneva. Their charity ex- 
tends no farther. 

The Impact of the Mission 

Beyond question, your judgement about the timing of our mission was 
correct. Each leader — except Nehru — publicly congratulated you on the 
"timing" of this mission. Chiang said — and all others privately concurred — ■ 
that the mission had the effect of "stabilizing" the situation in the South- 
east Asian nations. 

What happened, I believe, was this: the leaders visited want — as long as 
they can — to remain as friends or allies of the United States. The public, or, 
more precisely, the political, reaction to Laos had drastically weakened the 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 57 

ability to maintain any strongly pro-US orientation. Neutralism in Thailand, 
collapse in Vietnam, anti-American election demagoguery in the Philippines 
were all developing prior to our visit. The show of strength and sincerity — 
partly because you had sent the Vice President and partly, to a greater extent 
than you may believe, because you had sent your sister — gave the friendly 
leaders something to "hang their hats on" for a while longer. 

Our mission arrested Jhe decline of confidence in the United States. It did 
not — in my judgment— restore any confidence already lost. The leaders were 
as explicit, as courteous and courtly as men could be in making it clear that 
deeds must follow words — soon. 

We didn't buy time — we were given it. 

If these men I saw at your request were bankers, I would know — without 
bothering to ask — that there would be no further extensions on my note. 

* * * * 

The Importance of Follow-Through 

I cannot stress too strongly the extreme importance of following up this 
mission with other measures, other actions, and other efforts. At the mo- 
ment — because of Laos — these nations are hypersensitive to the possibility 
of American hypocrisy toward Asia. Considering the Vienna talks with 
Khrushchev — which, to the Asian mind, emphasize Western rather than 
Asian concerns — and considering the negative line of various domestic Amer- 
ican editorials about this mission, I strongly believe it is of first importance 
that this trip bear fruit immediately. 

Personal Conclusions from the Mission 

I took to Southeast Asia some basic convictions about the problems faced 
there. I have come away from the mission there — and to India and Pakistan 
— with many of those convictions sharpened and deepened by what I saw and 
learned. I have also reached certain other conclusions which I believe may 
be of value as guidance for those responsible in formulating policies. These 
conclusions are as follows: 

1. The battle against Communism must be joined in Southeast Asia with 
strength and determination to achieve sucess there — or the United States, 
inevitably, must surrender the Pacific and take up our defenses on our 
own shores. Asian Communism is compromised and contained by the 
maintenance of fr^rmtioji^onjhc sj^^njinent. Without this inhibitory 
influence, the island outposts — Philippines, Japan, Taiwan — have no se- 
curity and the vast Pacific becomes a Red Sea. 

2. The struggle is far from lost in Southeast Asia and it is by no means 
inevitable that it must be lost. In each country it is possible to build a 
sound structure capable of withstanding and turning the Communist 
surge. The will to resist — while "now the target of subversive attack — is 
there. The key to what is done by Asians in defense of Southeast Asian 
freedom is confidence in the l United .Slates. 

3. There is no alternative to United States leadership in Southeast Asia. 
Leadership in individual countries — or the regional leadership and co- 
operation so appealing to Asians — rests on the knowledge and faith in 
United States power, will and understanding. 

Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

4. j SEATO is not now and probably never will be the answer because of 
I British and French unwillingness to support decisive action. Asian distrust 
I of the British and French is outspoken. Success at Geneva would prolong 
i SEATO's role. Failure at Geneva would terminate SEATO's meaningful- 
I ness. In the latter event, we must be ready with a new approach to col- 
( lective security in the area. 

We should consider an alliance of all the free nations of the Pacific and 
Asia who are willing to join forces in defense of their freedom. Such an or- 
ganization should: 

a) have a clear-cut command authority 

b) also devote attention to measures and programs of social justice, 
housing, land reform, etc. 

5. Asian leaders — at this time — do not want American troops involved in 
Southeast Asia other than on training missions. American combat troop 
involvement is not only not required, it is not desirable. Possibly Ameri- 
cans — fail to appreciate fully the subtlety that recently-colonial peoples 
would not look with favor upon governments which invited or accepted 

[ the return this soon of Western troops. To the extent that fear of_ground 
troop involvement dominates our political responses to Asia in Congress 
or elsewhere, it seems most desirable to me to allay those paralyzing 
fears in confidence, on the strength of the individual statements made by 
leaders consulted on this trip. This does not minimize or disregard the 
probability that open attack would bring calls for U.S. combat troops. 

IBut the present probability of open attack seems scant, and we might 
gain much needed flexibility in our policies if the spectre of combat troop 
commitment could be lessened domestically. 

6. Any help — economic as well as military — we give less developed nations 
to secure and maintain their freedom must be a part of a mutual effort. 
These nations cannot be saved by United States help alone. To the extent 
the Southeast Asian nations are prepared to take the necessary measures 
to make our aid effective, we can be — and must be — unstinting in our 
assistance. It would be useful to enunciate more clearly than we have — 
for the guidance of these young and unsophisticated nations — what we 
expect or require of them. 

7. In large measure, the greatest danger Southeast Asia offers to nations like 
the United States is not the momentary threat of Communism itself, 
rather that danger stems from hunger, ignorance, poverty and disease. 
We must — whatever strategies we evolve — keep these enemies the point 
of our attack, and make imaginative use of our scientific and technologi- 
cal capability in such enterprises. 

8. Vietnam and Thailand are the immediate — and most important — trouble 
spots, critical to the U.S. These areas require the attention of our very 
best talents — under the very closest Washington direction — on matters 
economic, military and political. 

I The basic decision in Southeast Asia is here. We must decide whether to 
I help these countries to the best of our ability or throw in the towel in the 
; area and pull back our defenses to San Francisco and [a] "Fortress America" 
concept. More important, we would say to the world in this case that we 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 59 

don't live up to treaties and don't stand by our friends. This is not my con- 
cept. I recommend that we move forward promptly with a major effort to 
help these countries defend themselves. I consider the key here is to get our 
best MAAG people to control, plan, direct and exact results from our mili- 
tary aid program. In Vietnam and Thailand, we must move forward together. 

a. In Vietnam, Diem is a complex figure beset by many problems. He 
has admirable qualities, but he is remote from the people, is surrounded by 
persons less admirable and capable than he. The country can be saved — if 
we move quickly and wisely. We must decide whether to support Diem— 
or let Vietnam fall. We must have coordination of purpose in our country 
team, diplomatic and military. The Saigon Embassy, USIS, MAAG and 
related operations leave much to be desired. They should be brought up to 
maximum efficiency. The most important thing is imaginative, creative, 
American management of our military aid program. The Vietnamese and 
our MAAG estimate that $50 million of U.S. military and economic assist- 
ance will be needed if we decide to support Vietnam. This is the best in- 
formation available to us at the present time and if it is confirmed by the 
best Washington military judgment it should be supported. Since you pro- 
posed and Diem agreed to a joint economic mission, it should be appointed 
and proceed forthwith. 

b. In Thailand, the Thais and our own MAAG estimate probably as 
much is needed as in Vietnam — about $50 million of military and economic 
assistance. Again, should our best military judgment concur, I believe we 
should support such a program. Sarit is more strongly and staunchly pro- 
Western than many of his people. He is and must be deeply concerned at 
the consequence to his country of a communist-controlled Laos. If Sarit is 
to stand firm against neutralism, he must have — soon — concrete evidence to 
show his people of United States military and economic support. He be- 
lieves that his armed forces should be increased to 150,000. His Defense 
Minister is coming to Washington to discuss aid matters. 

sjc ;J; 5j; sjc 

To recapitulate, these are the main impressions I have brought back from 
my trip. 

The fundamental decision required of the United States — and time is of 
the greatest importance — is whether we are to attempt to meet the challenge 
of Communist expansion now in Southeast Asia by a major effort in support 
of the forces of freedom in the area or throw in the towel. This decision 
must be made in a full realization of the very heavy and continuing costs 
involved in terms of money, of effort and of United States prestige. It must 
be made with the knowledge that at some point we may be faced with the 
further decision of whether we commit major United States forces to the 
area or cut our losses and withdraw should our other efforts fail. We must 
remain master in this decision. What we do in Southeast Asia should be 
part of a rational program to meet the threat we face in the region as a 
whole. It should include a clear-cut pattern of specific contributions to be 
expected by each partner according to his ability and resources. I recom- 
mend we proceed with a clear-cut and strong program of action. 

60 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 


During his visit Johnson, on behalf of Kennedy, invited Diem to prepare a 
set of proposals on South Vietnamese military needs for consideration by Wash- 
ington. In a letter May 15, Diem told Kennedy that the definitive study would 
be ready in a few weeks. (He appreciated this invitation, Diem told Kennedy, 
"particularly because we have not become accustomed to being asked for 
our own views on our needs.)" 

On June 9, Diem signed the promised letter. It was carried to Washington by 
a key Diem aide (Nguyen Dinh Thuan) and delivered on the 14th. (Thuan 
played a key role on the Vietnamese side throughout 1961. He was the man 
Durbrow, in the cable quoted in full earlier, suspected was the only cabinet 
member Diem had told about the CIP. In a memo to Gilpatric, Lansdale de- 
scribed him as Diem's "Secretary of Security, Defense, Interior, etc.") 

In the letter, Diem proposed an increase in the RVNAF to 270,000 men, or 
to double the 150,000 strength authorized at the start of 1961, and 100,000 
men more than envisioned under the CIP. That was a large request: for up 
until the end of April, the U.S. and South Vietnamese were still haggling over 
the go-ahead for a 20,000-man increase. Further, Diem made it clear that he 
saw this force requirement as a semi-permanent increase in South Vietnamese 
strength, which would continue to be needed even should he eliminate the Viet 

Here are some extracts from Diem's letter: 

[The] situation . . . has become very much more perilous following the 
events in Laos, the more and more equivocal attitude of Cambodia and the 
intensification of the activities of aggression of international communism 
which wants to take the maximum advantage to accelerate the conquest of 
Southeast Asia. It is apparent that one of the major obstacles to the com- 
munist expansion on this area of the globe is Free Vietnam because with 
your firm support, we are resolved to oppose it with all our energies. 
Consequently, now and henceforth, we constitute the first target for the 
communists to overthrow at any cost. The enormous accumulation of 
Russian war material in North Vietnam is aimed, in the judgment of foreign 
observers, more at South Vietnam than at Laos. We clearly realize this 
dangerous situation but I want to reiterate to you here, in my personal name 
and in the name of the entire Vietnamese people, our indomitable will to win. 

On the second of May, my council of generals met to evaluate the current 
situation and to determine the needs of the Republic of Vietnam to meet 
this situation. Their objective evaluation shows that the military situation 
at present is to the advantage of the communists and that most of the 
Vietnamese Armed Forces are already committed to internal security and 
the protection of our 12 million inhabitants. For many months the com- 
munist-inspired fratricidal war has taken nearly one thousand casualties 
a month on both sides. Documents obtained in a recent operation, along 
route No. 9 which runs from Laos to Vietnam, contain definite proof that 
2,860 armed agents have infiltrated among us in the course of the last four 
months.* It is certain that this number rises each day. However, the Viet- 

* Diem's number implies an infiltration rate about 4 times as high as that estimated 
by U.S. intelligence in 1961, and twice as high as the hindsight revised 1961 estimates 
now in use. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 61 

namese people are showing the world that they are willing to fight and 
die for their freedom, notwithstanding the temptations to neutralism and 
its false promises of peace being drummed into their ears daily by the com- 

In the light of this situation, the council of generals concluded that addi- 
tional forces numbering slightly over 100,000 more than our new force level 
of 170,000 will be required to encounter the ominous threat of communist 
domination . . . 

After considering the recommendations of our generals and consulting with 
our American military advisors, we now conclude that to provide even 
minimum initial resistance to the threat, two new divisions of approxi- 
mately 10,000 strength each are required to be activated at the earliest 
possible date. Our lightly held defensive positions along the demilitarized 
zone at our Northern border is even today being outflanked by communist 
forces which have defeated the Royal Laotian Army garrisons in Tchepone 
and other cities in Southern Laos. Our ARVN forces are so thoroughly 
committed to internal anti-guerrilla operations that we have no effective 
forces with which to counter this threat from Southern Laos. Thus, we 
need immediately one division for the First Army Corps and one for the 
Second Army Corps to provide at least some token resistance to the size- 
able forces the communists are capable of bringing to bear against our 
Laotian frontier. Failing this, we would have no recourse but to withdraw 
our forces southward from the demilitarized zone and sacrifice progres- 
sively greater areas of our country to the communists. These divisions 
should be mobilized and equipped, together with initial logistic support 
units, immediately after completion of activation of the presently con- 
templated increase of 20,000 which you have offered to support. 
Following the activation of these units, which should begin in about five 
months, we must carry on the program of activation of additional units 
until over a period of two years we will have achieved a force of 14 infantry 
divisions, an expanded airborne brigade of approximately division strength 
and accompanying (support?) . . . The mission of this total 270,000 man 
force remains the same, namely, to overcome the insurgency which has risen 
to the scale of a bloody, communist-inspired civil war within our borders 
and to provide initial resistance to overt, external aggression until free 
world forces under the SEATO agreement can come to our aid. The ques- 
tion naturally arises as to how long we shall have to carry the burden of 
so sizeable a military force. Unfortunately, I can see no early prospects 
for the reduction of such a force once it has been established; for even 
though we may be successful in liquidating the insurgency within our bor- 
ders, communist pressure in Southeast Asia and the external military threat 
to our country must be expected to increase, I fear, before it diminishes. 
This means that we must be prepared to maintain a strong defensive mili- 
tary posture for at least the foreseeable future in order that we may not 
become one of the so-called "soft spots" which traditionally have attracted 
communist aggression. We shall therefore continue to need material sup- 
port to maintain this force whose requirements far exceed the capacity of 
our economy to support. . . . 

To accomplish this 100,000 man expansion of our military forces, which 
is perfectly feasible from a manpower viewpoint, will require a great in- 
tensification of our training programs in order to produce, in the minimum 
of time, those qualified combat leaders and technical specialists needed 

62 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

to fill the new units and to provide to them the technical and logistic sup- 
port required to insure their complete effectiveness. For this purpose a 
considerable expansion of the United States Military Advisory Group is an 
essential requirement. Such an expansion, in the form of selected elements 
of the American Armed Forces to establish training centers for the Viet- 
namese Armed Forces, would serve the dual purpose of providing an ex- 
pression of the United States' determination to halt the tide of communist 
aggression and of preparing our forces in the minimum of time. 
While the Government and people of Vietnam are prepared to carry the 
heavy manpower burden required to save our country, we well know that 
we cannot afford to pay, equip, train and maintain such forces as I have 
described. To make this effort possible, we would need to have assurances 
that this needed material support would be provided. 

The record is unclear on the immediate response to this letter. In particular, 
we have no record of the conversations Thuan had in Washington when he de- 
livered the requests. The issue of the RVNAF increases somehow became part 
of the business of an economic mission then about to leave for Vietnam (the 
Staley Mission, discussed in the following section). The request for "selected 
elements of the American Armed Forces," raised in the next-to-last quoted para- 
graph, is left thoroughly obscure in the records we have — to the point where 
we are not at all sure either what Diem meant by it or how the Administration 
reacted to it. But, as will be seen in the section below on "U.S. Troops," nothing 
came of it. 


One of the continuing negotiating items through most of 1961 was the 
extent to which the South Vietnamese should finance their own effort. The 
U.S. view was that the South Vietnamese were not doing enough. The result 
was American pressure on Diem to undertake what was called tax "reform." 
Diem was most reluctant to move. It is pretty clear that a large part of Diem's 
reluctance to move flowed from the same (well-founded) sense of personal 
insecurity that made him avoid establishing a clear military chain of command. 
On the latter issue, the risk of weakening the war effort obviously struck him 
as less dangerous than the risk of making a coup easier by concentrating mili- 
tary authority in his generals instead of dividing it between the generals and 
the 38 province chiefs. Similarly, for a ruler so unsure of his hold on the coun- 
try, a serious effort at imposing austerity looked more risky than holding out for 
the Americans to provide a few more millions out of their vast resources. But 
Diem, of course, was hardly likely to admit such reasons to the Americans, assum- 
ing he admitted them to himself. Consequently, on these issues (as on many 
others) the record is a long story of tediously extracted promises, excuses for 
inaction, and American complaints about Diem's administrative style. 
On the economic issue, the substance of the argument was this: 
The deficit between what Diem raised in taxes and what his budget required 
was made up by the U.S. through a commercial import program. The regime 
sold the goods provided by the U.S. to South Vietnamese businessmen, and 
used the piasters thus acquired mainly to meet the local currency costs (mostly 
food and pay) for the armed forces. U.S. dissatisfaction with the South Viet- 
namese effort showed clearly in the decision to ask the South Vietnamese them- 
selves to provide the local currency costs for the 20,000 man force increase 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 63 

proposed in the CIP, although the U.S. had been paying these costs (through 
the import program) for the balance of the forces. The South Vietnamese in- 
sisted, for the outset, that they could not raise the piasters required. 

The basic question of whether the South Vietnamese were bearing a reason- 
able share of the burden devolved into a number of technical issues, such as 
the effect of the program on inflation in South Vietnam, and the piaster/dollar 
exchange rate. The Gilpatric/Lansdale draft of the Task Force Report proposed 
that Diem be flatly assured that the U.S. would make up any deficit in the Viet- 
namese budget. But State objected from the start to giving any such assurance. 
Instead a joint commission of U.S. and South Vietnamese economic experts 
was proposed to work out a joint program dealing with these economic issues. 
This was one of the proposals Vice President Johnson carried with him on his 
mission. Diem accepted the proposal. And the U.S. team, headed by Eugene 
Staley (president of the Stanford Research Institute) was dispatched to South 
Vietnam in mid-June. 

By the time the Staley Mission left, though, Diem had written the letter just 
quoted asking for U.S. support for a large further increase in his forces. Staley's 
group, with its Vietnamese counterpart, found themselves serving as the vehicle 
for the discussions on force levels. The report they issued is mostly about mili- 
tary issues, on which the economists stated they simply reflected instructions 
passed on by their respective governments. Here are some excerpts on the 
military issues (in addition, the report of course contained a discussion, rather 
vague as it turned out, of the economic issues which were nominally its pur- 
pose, and it also contained a good deal of very fine, vigorous language on the 
need for "crash programs" of economic and social developing). 

Viet Nam is today under attack in a bitter, total struggle which in- 
volves its survival as a free nation. Its enemy, the Viet Cong, is ruthless, 
resourceful, and elusive. This enemy is supplied, reinforced, and centrally 
directed by the international Communist apparatus operating through 
Hanoi. To defeat it requires the mobilization of the entire economic, 
military psychological, and social resources of the country and vigorous 
support from the United States. 

The intensified program which we recommend our two countries adopt 
as a basis for mutual actions over the next several years is designed not 
just to hold the line but to achieve a real breakthrough. Our joint efforts 
must surpass the critical threshold of the enemy's resistance, thereby put- 
ing an end to his destructive attacks, and at the same time we must make 
a decisive impact on the economic, social, and ideological front. 

The turn of events in Laos has created further serious problems with 
regard to the maintenance of the GVN as a free and sovereign non-Com- 
munist nation. In particular, the uncovering of the Laotian-Viet Nam 
border to DRV or DRV-supported forces creates a serious threat of in- 
creased covert infiltration of personnel, supplies, and equipment to the 
Viet Cong. With such increased support, the Viet Cong undoubtedly hope 
to seize firm military control of a geographic area and announce the estab- 
lishment therein of a "rebel" government for South Viet Nam which would 
then be recognized by and receive military support from the DRV, Com- 
munist China, and Soviet Russia. (Example: The present situation in Laos.) 

The joint VN-US group does not consider itself competent to make 
specific recommendations as to desired force levels for the defense of Viet 
Nam. They have, however, after consultation with their respective mili- 

64 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

tary authorities, adopted for economic planning purposes certain estimated 
strength figures for the GVN armed forces under two alternative assump- 
tions. Alternative A assumes that the Communist-led insurgency effort 
remains at approximately its present level of intensity and the Govern- 
ment of Laos maintains sufficient independence from the Communist Bloc 
to deny authority for the transit of DVN or Communist Chinese troops 
across its borders. Alternative B assumes that the Viet Cong are able to 
significantly increase their insurgency campaign within Viet Nam and that 
the situation in Laos continues to deteriorate to the point where the Com- 
munists gain de facto control of that country. 

Alternative A called for a build-up of Diem's forces to 200,000 (vs. 170,000 
then authorized. Alternative B called for continuing the build-up to 270,000. 
On this basis, Kennedy agreed to provide support for the increase to 200,000. 
The 200,000-man approval was supposed to be contingent on South Vietnamese 
agreement to a plan for using the forces. The question of a further increase to 
270,000 was deferred, since it did not need to be faced until the lower figure 
was being approached, sometime late in 1962. 

A consequence of the Staley Mission was the South Vietnamese troop levels 
needed little attention in the fall review: the U.S. simply decided to support 
the increase to 200,000 even though the agreed plan for using the forces did 
not yet exist (as in May the U.S. had agreed to support the increase to 170,000 
which also, it will be recalled, was supposed to have been contingent on such 
a plan). 

A few points about the Staley Mission seem useful to keep in mind in re- 
viewing the fall process: 

1. It is another reminder of the prevailing (although not universal) over- 
optimism of U.S. appraisals of the Vietnam problem. 

2. One of the follow-on actions to the report was supposed to be a Viet- 
namese announcement of a program of social reform. Producing this piece of 
paper (and in the end it was not much more than a piece of paper) took 
months. It was experiences such as this that gave questions about the viability 
of the Diem regime greater prominence in the fall review than they had re- 
ceived during April and May. 

3. The U.S. was still continuing to deal with Diem most gently. Nothing 
more was asked of Diem as a quid pro quo than that he finally work up a plan 
for the counterinsurgency. The President explicitly accepted the assumptions 
of the Joint Plan worked out by the Staley Mission and their Vietnamese coun- 

This is from the formal record of decision: 

Joint Program of Action 
With the Government of 
Vietnam (Staley Report) 

August 4, 1961 

The President agrees with the three basic tenets on which the recom- 
mendations contained in the Joint Action Program are based, namely: 
a. Security requirements must, for the present, be given first priority. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 65 

b. Military operations will not achieve lasting results unless economic and 
social programs are continued and accelerated. 

c. It is in our joint interest to accelerate measures to achieve a self- 
sustaining economy and a free and peaceful society in Viet-Nam. 

Similar language was used at the time of the May decisions. So it is not new. 
It is only that, in the light of Diem's inactivity, the phrases implying that non- 
military efforts are also important had come to sound a little hollow. 


From the time of the Laos Annex to the original Gilpatric/Lansdale draft 
of the Task Force Report (April 28). The record shows persistent activity on 
some level or other on the issue of sending U.S. combat troops to Vietnam. 

At the time of the Task Force review, it will be recalled, Defense recom- 
mended sending two 1600-man combat units to Vietnam to set up two train- 
ing centers for the Vietnamese in the highlands. In later drafts of the Task 
Force report, this proposal was broadened to consider sending American 
troops for wider purposes, short of direct combat against the Viet Cong. But 
the proposal was downgraded to a subject for study and was no longer a defi- 
nite recommendation. 

Here is a summary of the items (on the issue of U.S. combat troops) in the 
record available to this study following Kennedy's decisions on the Task Force 
Report (May 11). 

On May 12 Vice President Johnson discussed the question with Diem, as 
described in an earlier section. This seems to have resolved the issue (nega- 
tively) so far as Johnson was concerned, and possibly as far as President Ken- 
nedy was concerned. But if it did, the President's view was not very emphati- 
cally passed on to subordinate members of the Administration. For a week 
later, Lansdale sent a memo to Gilpatrick noting that Diem did not want U.S. 
combat units as such, but that he might accept these units if they had a mission 
of training South Vietnamese forces: 

Ambassador Nolting [said] that President Diem would welcome as 
many U.S. military personnel as needed for training and advising Viet- 
namese forces [MAAG Chief] General McGarr, who was also present 
at this discussion [between Johnson and Diem], reported that while Presi- 
dent Diem would not want U.S. combat forces for the purpose of fighting 
Communists in South Vietnam, he would accept deployment of U.S. 
combat forces as trainers for the Vietnamese forces at any time. 

This language leaves it unclear whether McGarr was merely stating his 
opinion (which supported his own desire to bring in U.S. combat units), or 
reporting what he understood Diem to have said. 

(About the same day of Lansdale's memo — May 18 — the JCS had re- 
stated its recommendation of May 10 that combat troops should be sent 
to Vietnam; and McGarr, from Saigon, had recommended sending a 
16,000 man force, or if Diem would not accept that, a 10,000 man force 
with the nominal mission of establishing training centers for the Viet- 

66 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

namese. The similar recommendation made in the Task Force drafts had 
suggested 3200 men for the force.) 

In any event, Lansdale's memo makes it quite clear that he (along with 
McGarr and the JCS) were primarily interested in getting U.S. combat units 
into Vietnam, with the training mission a possible device for getting Diem to 
accept them. After a discussion of JCS and CINCPAC planning and of alterna- 
tive locations for the troops, Lansdale comments: 

. . . any of the above locations have good areas for training of Viet- 
namese forces, if this were to be a mission of the U.S. forces. 

In the available papers, no one at this time talked about using American 
units to directly fight the Viet Cong. Rather it was mainly in terms of relieving 
Vietnamese units to undertake offensive action. We can only guess what people 
were really thinking. As the training-the-Vietnamese rationale seems essentially 
a device for getting Diem to accept the units, the non-combatant role for U.S. 
troops may have been (and probably was in the minds of at least some of the 
planners) mainly a device for calming those members of the Administration 
who were reluctant to involve American units in fighting the Viet Cong. Cer- 
tainly in hindsight, it seems most unrealistic to suppose that American combat 
units could have been stationed in a center of Viet Cong activity (a number of 
papers postulate the insurgents were attempting to establish a "liberated area" 
in the high plateau, which was the principal local discussed) without them- 
selves becoming involved in the fighting. 

Lansdale concluded his memo by reminding Gilpatric that Diem was sending 
Thuan ("Secretary of Security, Defense, Interior, etc.") to Washington to 
deliver his letter on Vietnam's "definitive military needs." Lansdale recom- 
mended that Gilpatric take up the question of whether Diem would accept U.S. 
troops with Thuan. "With concrete information, you will then have a firm 
position for further decisions." 

But apparently someone did not want to wait for Thuan. For on May 27, 
Nolting reported that he had brought up the question of what Diem meant 
in his conversation with Johnson directly with Diem, and that Diem did not then 
want U.S. combat units "for this or any other reason." 

Nevertheless, on June 9, Diem signed the letter to Kennedy that, as quoted 
above, asked for: 

. . . selected elements of the American Armed Forces to establish train- 
ing centers for the Vietnamese Armed Forces, . . . 

a move which Diem stated : 

. . . would serve the dual purpose of providing an expression of the 
United States' determination to halt the tide of communist aggression and 
of preparing our forces in the minimum of time. 

This certainly sounded very much like the recommendation of the Task Force 
draft, or McGarr's later expanded version of that proposal; particularly since 
Diem explicitly stated that he had McGarr's advice in drafting the proposals. But 
where the American proposals were for training whole South Vietnamese 
divisions, Diem said the training centers would be for combat leaders and tech- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 67 

nical specialists. Consequently, it seems that Diem did not have the same thing 
in mind in referring to "selected elements of the American Armed Forces" as 
did McGarr and others interested in bringing in American combat units. It 
may be that Diem agreed to put in this request that sounded like what McGarr 
wanted as a concession to the Americans in return for support of the large 
increase in the RVNAF he was asking. 

Presumably this was clarified during the discussions Thuan had after deliver- 
ing the letter. But, as noted earlier, we have no record of the conversations. In 
any event, nothing came of the proposal. 

(A summary of Diem's letter, cabled to the American mission in Saigon the 
day after the letter was received in Washington, did not use the phrase "selected 
elements of the American Armed Forces." Instead it said that Diem asked 
for an increase of "American personnel" to establish the training centers. The 
crucial issue, of course, was whether Americans would be sent to Vietnam in 
the form of organized combat units, capable of, if not explicitly intended, for 
conducting combat operations. We do not know whether the wording of the 
summary reflected Thuan's clarification of the proposal when he arrived in 
Washington, or a high level Administration decision to interpret Diem's letter 
as not asking for combat units, or merely sloppy drafting of the cable.) 

It seems clear that either Diem (despite the language of the letter he signed) 
really did not want American units, or that Kennedy (despite the activity of his 
subordinates) did not want to send those units, or both. 

SorensoiT) in his memoir, says that in May Kennedy decided against sending 
combat units despite the recommendations he received at the time of the Task 
Force Report. But his account of the Task Force is in error on a number of 
details, and so it is hard to know how much to credit his recollection. 

But there is a final item apparently from this period that seems to support 
Sorenson. It is a handwritten undated note on a piece of scratch paper from 
Rostow to McNamara. It looks like a note passed at a meeting. From its location 
in the file, it was probably written about June 5, that is, a few days before Thuan 
arrived with Diem's letter. It reads: 


We must think of the kind of forces and missions for Thailand now, 
Vietnam later. 

We need a guerrilla deterrence operation in Thailand's northeast. 
We shall need forces to support a counter-guerrilla war in Vietnam: 


communications men 
special forces 
militia teachers 


Two things are striking about this note: first, it is a quite exact description 
of the sort of military assistance Kennedy finally dispatched to Vietnam (i.e., 
combat support and advisors but not American units capable of independent 
combat against the guerrillas). Second, it certainly suggests that despite what 

68 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

Lansdale, McGarr, and others were doing, those close to the President were not 
at this time thinking about sending American combat units to Vietnam (or any 
American forces, for even the units Rostow lists are for "later" in contrast to 
'Thailand now"). Nevertheless on July 20, McGarr again raised the question of 
combat units for training with Diem, and reported again that he did not want 

In general, we seem to be seeing here a pattern that first began to emerge in 
the handling of the Task Force Report and which will be even more strikingly 
evident in the President's handling of the Taylor Report. 

Someone or other is frequently promoting the idea of sending U.S. combat 
units. Kennedy never makes a clear-cut decision but some way or other action 
is always deferred on any move that would probably lead to engagements on 
the ground between American units and the Viet Cong. 

We have no unambiguous basis for judging just what had really happened in 
each case. But we do see a similar pattern at least twice and possibly three dif- 
ferent times: in May, perhaps again in June (depending on details of Thuan's 
talks in Washington not available to this study), and as we will report shortly, 
again in November. In each case, the record seems to be moving toward a 
decision to send troops, or at least to a Presidential decision that, in principal, 
troops should be sent if Diem can be persuaded to accept them. But no such 
decision is ever reached. The record never shows the President himself as the 
controlling figure. In June, there does not seem to be any record of what 
happened, at least in the files available to this study. In May and, as we will 
see, in November, the President conveniently receives a revised draft of the 
recommendations which no longer requires him to commit himself. 

No reliable inference can be drawn from this about how Kennedy would 
have behaved in 1965 and beyond had he lived. (One of those who had advised 
retaining freedom of action on the issue of sending U.S. combat troops was 
Lyndon Johnson.) It does not prove that Kennedy behaved soundly in 1961. 
Many people will think so; but others will argue that the most difficult problem 
of recent years might have been avoided if the U.S. had made a hard commit- 
ment on the ground in South Vietnam in 1961 . 


As to Diem, we have, of course, even less in the way of a record from which 
to judge what he really thought he was doing. But it is not hard to understand 
why he should be reluctant to accept U.S. combat troops. His stated reason 
was always that sending U.S. combat units would signal the end of the Geneva 
Accords. But this explanation explains little. Diem thought the Geneva Accords 
were betrayal of Vietnam in 1954, and a farce, freely violated by the commu- 
nists, later. Consequently, he would be concerned about their demise only if 
North Vietnam could use this as a pretext for an overt invasion. But North 
Vietnam had long had a suitable pretext for an invasion in Diem's refusal to 
discuss the elections called for under the Geneva Accords. Diem's shield was the 
threat of U.S. intervention, not the Geneva Accords, and it is mighty hard to see 
how this shield could be weakened by putting American troops on the ground 
in South Vietnam. 

But there were other reasons for Diem to be wary of U.S. troops. For one 
thing, not even Diem's severest critics questioned his commitment to Viet- 
namese nationalism. The idea of inviting foreign troops back into Vietnam must 
surely have been distasteful even once he decided it was unavoidable. Further, 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 69 

the presence of American troops in Vietnam had a very ambivalent effect on 
the risk to Diem of a military coup. To the extent American troops increased 
the sense of security, they would lessen the likelihood of a coup, which the 
military rationalized mainly on the grounds that they could not win the war 
under Diem. But the larger the American military presence in the country, 
the more Diem would have to worry about American ability and temptation to 
encourage a coup if Diem incurred American displeasure. 

The net impact of these conflicting effects would depend on the security 
situation in Vietnam. If Diem felt strong, he would probably not want American 
troops; if he felt weak, he might see no choice but to risk inviting the Ameri- 
cans in. Even at the time of the Taylor mission, we will see Diem is most erratic 
on this issue. 

Against this background, it is easy to understand why Diem, when the 
situation got worse in September, should have "pointed the question" at 
whether the U.S. would give him a treaty, rather than whether the U.S. would 
send in troops. As far as we can see, he was mostly concerned about what the 
latest VC attacks were doing to confidence in his regime, rather than any fear 
that the VC, still estimated at fewer than 20,000 strong, were going to defeat 
the quarter million regulars and auxiliaries in his own forces. What he probably 
wanted was an unambiguous public commitment that the Americans would not 
let Vietnam fall. For this would meet his immediate concern about confidence 
in his regime, perhaps even more effectively than the dispatch of American 
troops, and without the disadvantages that would come with accepting American 
troops. For Diem, a clear-cut treaty probably seemed the best possible combin- 
ation of maximizing the American commitment while minimizing American 
leverage. And that, of course, would help explain why the Administration was 
not terribly attracted to such a proposal. 


So far as the available record shows, there was no sense of imminent crisis 
in the official reporting to Washington as fall of 1961 began. An NIE published 
in mid-August concluded that Diem faced a "prolonged and difficult struggle" 
against the insurgency, and noted that "the French with their memories of the 
Indochina that was and the British with their experience in Malaya tend to be 
pessimistic regarding GVN prospects for combating the insurgency." But the 
NIE also reported that Diem's army had been performing better in 1961 than 
in 1960. Warning of possible trouble looked months, rather than weeks, ahead. 
The danger foreseen was a coup: "if the fight against the Viet Cong goes poorly 
during the next year or the South Vietnamese Army suffers heavy casualties, 
the chances of a military coup would substantially increase." 

The judgment of the NIE on the effects of such a coup was entirely negative: 

If there is a serious disruption of GVN leadership as a result of Diem's 
death or as the result of a military coup, any momentum of GVN's counter- 
insurgency efforts had achieved will be halted or reversed, at least for a 
time. The confusion and suspicion attending a coup effort could provide 
the communists with an opportunity to seize control of the government. 

There is no mention of any offsetting hope for a coup leading to more 
effective prosecution of the war. The overall impression left by the NIE is 
that Diem is not a very effective leader, but that he is getting along well enough 

70 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

to make the risks of a coup look more dangerous than the risks of the war being 
unwinnable under his leadership. In particular, a coup (or Diem's death) were 
seen as the only thing that could bring a quick collapse of the Saigon regime, 
as opposed to the loss over time of a "prolonged and difficult" struggle. 

MA AG Chief McGarr, in a report dated September 1, spoke of the 
"enhanced sense of urgency and offensive spirit now present within both the 
RVNAF and the Government of Vietnam . . ." Under the heading "Outlook 
for Next Year," he reported: 

With the increased effectiveness of the Armed Forces beginning to be 
demonstrated by the recent operations in the Delta Region and the mani- 
fest intent of the U.S. to continue and even step up its vital support of 
the Vietnamese in their struggle against Communism, there is a spirit of 
renewed confidence beginning to permeate the people, the GVN, and the 
Armed Forces. 

The political reporting from Saigon was less optimistic. Generally, these 
reports argued that Diem was not doing much to strengthen his support. But 
there was no disagreement with McGarr's fairly optimistic assessment of the 
military situation and no sense of crisis. 

Through unofficial channels, though, the White House was receiving a far 
bleaker view of the situation. Schlesinger reports: 

"The situation gets worse almost week by week," Theodore H. White 
wrote us in August. ". . . The guerrillas now control almost all the 
southern delta — so much so that I could find no American who would 
drive me outside Saigon in his car even by day without military convoy." 
He reported a "political breakdown of formidable proportions: . . . what 
perplexes hell out of me is that the Commies, on their side, seem to be 
able^tojrnd people willing to die for their cause ... I find it discouraging 
to spend a night in a Saigon night-club full of young fellows of 20 and 25 
dancing and jitterbugging (they are called 'la jeunesse cowboy') while 
twenty miles away their Communist contemporaries are terrorizing the 
countryside." An old China hand, White was reminded of Chungking in 
the Second World War, complete with Madame Nhu in the role of Madame 
Chiang Kai-shek. "If a defeat in South Vietnam is to be considered our 
defeat, if we are responsible for holding that area, then we must have 
authority to act. And that means intervention in Vietnam politics . . . 
If we do decide so to intervene, have we the proper personnel, the proper 
instruments, the proper clarity of objectives to intervene successfully?" 

It did not take long to confirm White's pessimism, although this must have 
made the dilemma of what to do about it seem all the more acute. In 
September, the number of VC attacks jumped to nearly triple the level (about 
450 vs. 150) that had prevailed for some months previously. The most spec- 
tacular attack, which seems to have had a shattering effect in Saigon, was the 
seizure of Phuoc Thanh, a provincial capital only 55 miles from Saigon. The 
insurgents held the town a good part of the day, publicly beheaded Diem's 
province chief, and departed before government troops arrived. The official 
reporting to Washington by the end of the month pictured the situation as 
stagnating, if not dangerously deteriorating, although there continued to be no 
sense of the imminent crisis that Theodore White foresaw. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 71 

Here is an end-of-month report that Nolting sent just prior to the meeting 
at which Diem asked for the treaty: 

Status report on political items as of Sept. 28: 

General: Governmental and civil situation at end of month much same as 
at beginning. While neither of these gave open signs of deterioration, Diem 
government did not significantly improve its political position among 
people or substantially further national unity. On positive side several fifty- 
man district level reconstruction teams were sent to each of 4 provinces, 
and there was commendable amount country-side travel by ministers. On 
other hand, report was received of high-level bickering over powers 
and authority of new central intelligence organization, and Diem expressed 
dissatisfaction with pace of field command's planning of counter-insurgency 
operations, but he has still not delegated sufficient authority to field com- 
mand. All in all we unable report that Sept. saw progress toward attain- 
ment task force goals of creating viable and increasingly democratic 
society. Some such "shot in arm" as proposed joint communique seems 

Series large scale VC attacks in various areas central Vietnam during 
month highlighted increased VC infiltrations through Laos and under- 
scored urgency of free world policy toward Laos which would bring this 
situation under control. These VC actions plus temporary VC seizure of 
provincial capital of Phuoc Thanh demonstrated that tide not yet turned 
in guerrilla war . . . 

The "shot in the arm" Nolting referred to was the communique on social re- 
forms that was agreed to some weeks earlier at the time of the Staley Mission; 
it would finally be issued, in a watered down form, early in January. The con- 
trast between White's and Nolting's reporting is sharp: White obviously would 
not have seen the issuing of a communique as a significant "shot in the arm," 
or commented on the VC show of strength in such mild terms as demonstrating 
"that tide not yet turned." Consequently, although Diem's request for a treaty 
[Doc. 91] (a day after this cable was sent) surprised Nolting, its effect at the 
White House was presumably to confirm the warning that had already been 
received through White. 

The State Department's view of the situation seems also to have been graver 
than that of the Embassy in Saigon. We have a situation summary on South- 
east Asia that refers to Nolting's cable but not to Diem's treaty request, and 
which consequently must have been distributed about October 1. On the polit- 
ical situation in South Vietnam, the summary quotes Nolting's "no progress" 
comments. But the military situation is described more bleakly than Nolting 


1. Although GVN military capabilities have increased, Viet Cong cap- 
abilities are increasing at more rapid rate and Viet Cong attacks have 
increased in size. 

2. Viet Cong "regular" forces have increased from about 7,000 at begin- 
ning of year to approximately 17,000. 

3. Viet Cong have moved from stage of small hands to large units. 
During September Viet Cong mounted three attacks with over 1,000 men 

72 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

in each. Viet Cong strategy may be directed at "liberating" an area in 
which a "government" could be installed. 

4. Although vast majority of Viet Cong troops are of local origin, the 
infiltration of Viet Cong cadres from North Viet-Nam via Laos, the de- 
militarized zone, and by sea appears to be increasing. However, there is 
little evidence of major supplies from outside sources, most arms apparently 
being captured or stolen from GVN forces or from the French during the 
Indo-China war. 

On Laos, the situation summary showed no such pessimism. But, overall the 
absence of bad news from Laos only added to the worry about South Vietnam. 
For the paper reported : 

There probably have been some Viet Minh withdrawals from northern 
Laos but Viet Minh movement into Southern Laos bordering on South 
Vietnam has increased. Thus it appears enemy may be accepting stalemate 
for time being within Laos and giving priority to stepping up offensive action 
against South Vietnam. 

Two final items are worth bearing in mind in trying to see the Vietnamese 
problem as it might have appeared to the White House in the fall of 1961. 
First, this warning of the effect of U.S. policy in Vietnam, from the August 15 
NIE quoted earlier: 

International Attitudes. In providing the GVN a maximum of encour- 
agement and extensive support in its struggle against the Communists, 
the US will inevitably become identified with the GVN's success or failure. 
The US will be under heavy pressure from other members of the non- 
Communist world, many of whom view the Vietnam struggle in differing 
terms. For example, the neighboring countries, such as Thailand, Cam- 
bodia, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Nationalist China, have all 
to some extent viewed developments in Laos as a gauge of US willingness 
and ability to help an anti-Communist Asian government stand against a 
Communist "national liberation" campaign. They will almost certainly 
look upon the struggle for Vietnam as a critical test of such US willing- 
ness and ability. All of them, including the neutrals, would probably suffer 
demoralization and loss of confidence in their prospects for maintaining 
their independence if the Communists were to gain control of South Viet- 
nam. This loss of confidence might even extend to India. 

Second, a couple of newspaper quotes may serve as a reminder of the extent to 
which the Kennedy Administration had been under a constant sense of foreign 
policy crisis throughout its first year, with every evidence of more to come. In 
late September, in a review piece on Congressional appraisals of Kennedy's 
first year, Russell Baker comments that not even Congress seems much inter- 
ested in debate about Kennedy's effectiveness in pushing through legislation: 

, What makes it particularly irrelevant this autumn is that Congress itself 
j has been far more concerned ever since January with the President's per- 
formance as guardian of the national security than with how he came out 
j as chief warrior for a legislative program. 

From Laos to Cuba to Vienna to Berlin to the Soviet nuclear testing 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 73 

site at Semipalatinsk to New York's East River, crisis after crisis has 
fallen across the White House with a rapidity and gravity that has absorbed 
Mr. Kennedy's energy since his inauguration and reduced the Congressional 
program to secondary importance. 

And a couple of days later, James Reston, describing the imminent risk of a 
nuclear crisis over Berlin, reported: 

Specifically, Khrushchev told one of Mr. Kennedy's political emissaries 
that once Krushchev signs a separate peace treaty with the Communist 
East Germans, not only all of the West's rights in Berlin will cease, but 
all traffic to Berlin will cease until the West negotiates new rights of access 
with the East German regime. 

Khrushchev was questioned minutely on this key point. His reply was 
unequivocal: Not one truck, or barge, or train, or plane would leave from 
West Germany for West Berlin after the separate peace treaty until the 
new arrangements with the East Germans were negotiated. 

Now, this is not precisely the same as Mr. Gromyko's bland assurances. 
J This is blockade, and blockade is an act of war. Washington has made 
clear that it is not going to get stirred up if the East Germans merely re- 
place the Russians on the borders between East and West Germany and 
approve the flow of adequate supplies. But Mr. Khrushchev did not support 
this procedure, and went on to threaten that any effort to break his block- 
aide by force would lead to war. 

Since Khrushchev had repeatedly pledged to sign the East German treaty by 
the end of the year, the showdown was not far off. 



As of early October, there were several proposals for more active intervention 
in Southeast Asia on the table. One was the JCS-favored plan to intervene on the 
ground in Laos to seize and hold major portions of the country, principally to 
protect the borders of South Vietnam and Thailand. A second plan (referred to 
in a staff paper as the "Rostow proposal") would have put a SEATO force of 
about 25,000 men into Vietnam to try to mount a guard on the Vietnam/Laos 
border between the DMZ and Cambodia. Finally, there were various schemes, 
dating from the Task Force review, for putting a U.S. force into the highlands, or 
at DaNang with or without a nominal mission of training South Vietnamese 

Except for the Rostow proposal all these plans pre-dated the spurt of Viet 
Cong activity in September and Diem's subsequent request for a treaty. The 
record does not tell when and why the Rostow proposal was drawn up. It was 
probably a direct response to Diem's request, but it may have been simply a part 
of the on-going Laos contingency planning. In any event, Rostow's proposal was 
submitted to the JCS for Comment October 5. On the 9th, the JCS responded 
with a counter-proposal for a substantial (initially about 20,000 men, but 
expected to grow) commitment of U.S. forces in Vietnam, centered on Pleiku 
in the highlands. 

74 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

In hindsight, the JCS reasoning in rejecting the Rostow proposal looks 
unchallengeable. The JCS stated: 

a. SEATO forces will be deployed over a border of several hundred 
miles, and will be attacked piecemeal or by-passed at the Viet Cong's own 

b. It may reduce but cannot stop infiltration of Viet Cong personnel and 

c. It deploys SEATO forces in the weakest defense points should DRV or 
CHICOM forces intervene. 

d. It compounds the problems of communications and logistical support. 

The Chiefs also argued against an alternative border proposal to put the 
SEATO force along the 17th parallel. Their first preference, very emphatically, 
was to go into Laos: 

As stated in your [Gilpatric's] memorandum, the proposed concept set 
forth must be analyzed in the total context of the defense of Southeast Asia. 
Any concept which deals with the defense of Southeast Asia that does not 
include all or a substantial portion of Laos is, from a military standpoint, 
unsound. To concede the majority of northern and central Laos would 
leave three-quarters of the border of Thailand exposed and thus invite an 
expansion of communist military action. To concede southern Laos would 
open the flanks of both Thailand and South Vietnam as well as expose 
Cambodia. Any attempt to combat insurgency in South Vietnam, while 
holding areas in Laos essential to the defense of Thailand and South Viet- 
nam and, at the same time, putting troops in Thailand, would require an 
effort on the part of the United States alone on the order of magnitude of 
at least three divisions plus supporting units. This would require an 
additional two divisions from the United States. 

What is needed is not the spreading out of our forces throughout South- 
east Asia, but rather a concentrated effort in Laos where a firm stand can 
be taken saving all or substantially all of Laos which would, at the same 
time, protect Thailand and protect the borders of South Vietnam. 

But, if the Laos plan was "politically unacceptable at this time," the Chiefs 
"provided" (but did not explicitly recommend) "a possible limited interim course 
of action" which could . . . 

provide a degree of assistance to the Government of South Vietnam to 
regain control of its own territory, and could free certain South Vietnamese 
forces for offensive actions against the Viet Cong. While the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff agree that implementation of this limited course of action would not 
provide for the defense of Thailand or Laos, nor contribute substantially or 
permanently to solution of the overall problem of defense of Southeast 
Asia, they consider the Plan preferable to either of the two military 
possibilities described in referenced memorandum. 

The following day, there appeared a new paper called "Concept of Interven- 
tion in Vietnam." The paper, according to a pencilled note on the available copy, 
was drafted mainly by Alexis Johnson, who was then a Deputy Under Secretary 
of State. We know from a note William Bundy (then principal Deputy to Paul 
Nitze, who was then Assistant Secretary of Defense, ISA) sent to McNamara 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 75 

that a "talking paper" by Johnson was to be discussed at a meeting that included, 
at least, Rusk and McNamara on the afternoon of the 10th. But we do not know 
whether the draft we have available is the "talking paper" or a revision put to- 
gether later in the day, after the meeting. 

The proposal ("an effort to arrest and hopefully reverse the deteriorating 
situation in Vietnam") was a blend of Rostow's border force and the Chiefs 
"possible limited interim course of action." Johnson's paper listed both the Ros- 
tow mission of the force (attempt to close the border) and that of the Chiefs 
(win control of the central highlands); otherwise the paper followed the JCS 
plan. What probably happened, considering the haste with which the paper must 
have been drafted, was that Johnson simply blended the two proposals together 
and assumed the fine points could be worked out later. For if the paper is some- 
what confusing on the immediate military proposal, it is clear on the long-run 
thinking that underlays the proposal. And this long-run thinking made the 
immediate military mission relatively inconsequential, since as with the earlier 
combat-troops-for-training proposals, it was pretty clear that the main idea was 
to get some American combat troops into Vietnam, with the nominal excuse for 
doing so quite secondary. 

The plan was described under the heading "Initial Phase." A subsequent 
section, titled "Anticipated Later Phases" states: 

This initial action cannot be taken without accepting as our real and 
ultimate objective the defeat of the Viet Cong, and making Vietnam secure 
in the hands of an anti-Communist government. Thus supplemental mili- 
tary action must be envisaged" at the earliest stage that is politically feasible. 
The ultimate force requirements cannot be estimated with any precision. 
JCS are now considering. Three divisions would be a guess . . . 

Earlier the paper, in a similar vein, had remarked: 

While a satisfactory political settlement in Laos would considerably 
reduce Viet Minh infiltration through Laos into South Vietnam, it would 
not entirely eliminate it. While such a reduction would materially assist the 
GVN in meeting the Viet Cong threat, there is no assurance that, even 
under these circumstances, the GVN will in the foreseeable future be able 
to defeat the Viet Cong. Under these circumstances, although the need of 
South Vietnam for outside assistance such as proposed in this plan would 
probably still be very strong, it would be much more difficult to find a politi- 
cal base upon which to execute this plan. 

This judgment was probably influenced by a special NIE issued October 5th, 
which stated that 80-90% of the estimated 17,000 VC had been locally recruited, 
and that there was little evidence that the VC relied on external supplies. 

The relation of this paper to Diem's request for treaty can only be guessed at. 
The paper never mentions Diem, or any South Vietnamese request for further 
assistance. But the paper supplemented one published about a week or so earlier 
(probably prior to Diem's request) titled "Limited Holding Actions in Southeast 
Asia." This earlier paper discussed various steps short of major troop deploy- 

The impression is that both papers were part of contingency planning (short 
of major intervention in Laos) for saving something in Southeast Asia should the 
Laos negotiations continue to drag on with no satisfactory resolution. Thus al- 

76 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

though the timing of the Vietnam paper was surely influenced and probably 
triggered by Diem's request for a treaty, it looks essentially like a suggestion (but 
not a formal recommendation) to the President that if he is unwilling to inter- 
vene to try to save Laos, he should at least take strong and unambiguous action 
to make sure that Vietnam would not also be lost. In this interpretation it is easy 
to make sense of the emphasis on a deteriorating situation in Vietnam, and the 
implied warning that it might be best to set this plan in motion before a settle- 
ment is reached in Laos, when it seemed relatively easy to provide a politically 
plausible basis for the action. 

(In a recent column, Joseph Alsop quoted Averill Harriman as telling him 
that Kennedy had told Harriman to get whatever settlement he could on Laos, 
but that the U.S. really intended to make its stand in Vietnam.) 

At the end of the Vietnam paper there is a list of "Specific Actions to be 
Taken Now" which goes no further [on Vietnam] than to list: 

Use of U.S. naval aircraft and ships to assist GVN in interdiction of sea 
traffic, to assist self defense of GVN. This is to some extent camouflagable. 

If necessity arises, use of U.S. military aircraft for logistic support, in- 
cluding troop lift within Laos and South Vietnam. 

Further, there is a long list of pros and cons, with no judgment stated on the 

This (and other statements to be cited below) suggests, again, that the paper 
was prepared for a discussion on Southeast Asia planning in the NSC, rather 
than in response to a request for a set of recommendations. 

Three other points need to be mentioned: 

1. The paper, although nominally presenting a SEATO plan, explicitly as- 
sumes that "planning would have to be on the basis of proceeding with which- 
ever SEATO Allies would participate." 

2. The paper warns (in the balance of the paragraph quoted earlier) that the 
ultimate force requirements would "much depend" on the capabilities and lead- 
ership of the SEATO forces . . . and above all on whether the effort leads to 
much more better fighting by Diem's forces. They alone can win in the end. 

3. Very clearly foreshadowing the Taylor mission (and perhaps indicating a 
White House hand in the drafting) the paper states: 

The viability of this plan would be dependent on the degree to which it 
could and would also result in the GVN accelerating political and military 
action in its own defense. A judgment on this can only be reached after 
thorough exploration on the spot with the country team and the GVN. 

Finally, here is the list of pros and cons presented (but not evaluated) in the 


1. The plan would not in itself solve the underlying problem of ridding 
SVN of communist guerrillas. 

2. It would not seal off the borders of SVN except for the limited area 
of operations. 

jj 3. It breaks the Geneva Accords and puts responsibility on the U.S. for 
• rationalizing the action before the U.N. and the world. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 11 

4. It raises questions of U.S. troop relationships with the Vietnamese 
peasants, montagnards, GVN and its army. 

5. The use of SEATO forces in SVN distorts Plan Five [for major in- 
tervention in Laos] although these forces are not a net subtraction. 

6. The risk of being regarded as interlopers a la the French must be 

7. Communist change of tactics back to small-scale operations might 
leave this force in a stagnant position. 


1. The effect on GVN morale of SEATO engagement in their struggle 
could be most heartening. 

2. It could prevent the Viet Cong move to the next stage of battalion- 
size, formal organization to challenge the ARVN. 

3. The relatively sophisticated SEATO arms, air power, communica- 
tions and intelligence might spark a real transformation in ARVN tactics 
and action. 

4. Capitalizing on U.S. intelligence sources now unavailable to the GVN 
could lead to effective attacks on Viet Cong nerve centers of command 
and communications. 

5. The SEATO force commitment could be used to get from Diem a 
package of actions McGarr feels are needed to step up the GVN effort 
[mainly the familiar items of clarifying the chain of command and estab- 
lishing an overall plan]. 

6. Introducing SEATO forces would give us for the first time some bar- 
gaining position with the Russians for a settlement in Vietnam. 

7. If we go into South Vietnam now with SEATO, the costs would be 
much less than if we wait and go in later, or lose SVN. 

The available record shows three other papers prepared prior to the NSC 
meeting, October 1 1, at which this paper was considered: 

1. A special NIE commented on the plan in terms that were a lot less than 

In the situation assumed, we believe that the DRV would seek at first to 
test the seriousness and effectiveness of the SEATO effort by subjecting the 
SEATO forces and their lines of communication to harassment, ambush, 
and guerrilla attack. The Communists would probably estimate that by 
using their Viet Cong apparatus in South Vietnam, and by committing ex- 
perienced guerrilla forces from North Vietnam in guerrilla operations in 
territory long familiar to them, and by exploiting the opportunities offered 
by the sizable junk traffic in coastal waters, they could severely harass the 
SEATO land forces and penetrate the SEATO blockade. The Communists 
would expect worthwhile political and psychological rewards from suc- 
cessful harassment and guerrilla operations against SEATO forces, in- 
cluding lowered GVN morale and increased tensions among the SEATO 

While seeking to test the SEATO forces, the DRV would probably not 
relax its Viet Cong campaign against the GVN to any significant extent. 
Meanwhile, Communist strength in south Laos would probably be in- 
creased by forces from North Vietnam to guard against an effort to par- 
tition Laos or an attack against the Pathet Lao forces. The Soviet airlift 

78 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

would probably be increased with a heavier flow of military supply into 
south Laos, and the Communists would probably intensify their efforts to 

I establish a secure route for motor traffic into the south. The establishment 
of a coalition government in Laos under Souvanna Phouma probably would 
not significantly reduce Communist infiltration of men and equipment 

i from North to South Vietnam through Laos. 

If the Seato action appeared to be proving effective in reducing the 
present scale of infiltration the Communist probably would increase their 
use of the mountain trail system through Cambodia. This is a longer and 
more difficult route but its use could keep at least minimum support flow- 
ing to the Viet Cong. At the same time, in order to reduce the apparent 
success of the SEATO action, they could intensify small unit attacks, as- 
sassinations, and local terrorism in South Vietnam; they could also com- 
mit more DRV irregular personnel for the harassment of the SEATO 
forces. In any event, the SEATO commitment in South Vietnam would 
probably have to be continued over a prolonged period. It might be part 
of Communist tactics to play upon possible SEATO weariness over main- 
taining substantial forces and accepting losses, in South Vietnam over a 

[ long period of time . . . 

The reaction to the assumed SEATO action among concerned non-Com- 
munist governments would vary widely. The Asian members of SEATO 
would find renewed confidence in the organization and the US, if the plan 
were to go well. If, on the other hand, the SEATO action were to become 
costly, prolonged, or to involve heavy casualties, the Asian members would 
soon become disenchanted and look to the US to "do something" to lessen 
the burden and to solve the problem. The UK and France would be likely to 
oppose the assumed SEATO action, and their reluctance to participate 
could be overcome only with great difficulty, if at all. 

In this instance, and as we will see, later, the Intelligence Community's es- 
timates of the likely results of U.S. moves are conspicuously more pessimistic 
(and more realistic) than the other staff papers presented to the President. This 
SNIE was based on an assumption that the SEATO force would total about 
25,000 men. It is hard to imagine a more sharp contrast than between this pa- 
per, which foresees no serious impact on the insurgency from proposed inter- 
vention, and Supplemental Note 2, to be quoted next. 

2. "Supplemental Note 2" to the paper, issued the day of the NSC meeting, 
contained, among other comments, a JCS estimate of the size of the American 
force needed "to clean up the Viet Cong threat." It reads: 

Wider Military Implications. As the basic paper indicates, the likelihood 
of massive DRV and Chicom intervention cannot be estimated with pre- 
cision. The SNIE covers only the initial phase when action might be limited 
to 20-25,000 men. At later stages, when the JCS estimate that 40,000 US 
forces will be needed to clean up the Viet Cong threat, the chances of 
such massive intervention might well become substantial, with the Soviets 
finding it a good opportunity to tie down major US forces in a long action, 
perhaps as part of a multi-prong action involving Berlin and such additional 
areas as Korea and Iran. 

Because of this possibility of major Bloc intervention, the maximum 
possible force needs must be frankly faced. Assuming present estimates of 
about 40,000 US forces for the stated military objective in South Vietnam, 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 79 

plus 128,000 US forces for meeting North Vietnam and Chicom interven- 
tion, the drain on US-based reserve forces could be on the order of 3 or 4 
divisions and other forces as well. The impact on naval capabilities for 
blockade plans (to meet Berlin) would also be major. In light of present 
Berlin contingency plans, and combat attrition, including scarce items of 
equipment, the initiation of the Vietnam action in itself should dictate a step 
up in the present mobilization, possibly of major proportions. 

3. Finally, there is the following memo from William Bundy (then acting 
Assistant Secretary of Defense, ISA) to McNamara. It is of interest because it is 
the only piece of paper available for this period that gives anyone's candid 
recommendations to his boss, as opposed to the more formal staff papers: 

Even if the decision at tomorrow's meeting is only preliminary — to ex- 
plore with Diem and the British, Australians, and New Zealanders would 
be my guess — it is clearly of the greatest possible importance. Above all, 
action must proceed fast. 

For what one man's feel is worth, mine — based on very close touch 
with Indochina in the 1954 war and civil war afterwards till Diem took hold 
— is that it is really now or never if we are to arrest the gains being made by 
the Viet Cong. Walt Rostow made the point yesterday that the Viet Cong 
are about to move, by every indication, from the small unit basis to a moder- 
ate battalion-size basis. Intelligence also suggests that they may try to set up 
a "provisional government" like Xieng Khuang (though less legitimate 
appearing) in the very Kontum area into which the present initial plan 
would move SEATO forces. If the Viet Cong movement "blooms" in this 
way, it will almost certainly attract all the back-the-winner sentiment that 
understandably prevails in such cases and that beat the French in early 
1954 and came within an ace of beating Diem in early 1955. 

Anjjarly__and hard-hitting operation has a good chance (70% would 
be my guess) of arresting things and giving Diem a chance to do better 
and clean up. Even if^we~F6n6w up hard, on the lines the JCS are working 
out after yesterday's meeting, however, t he cha nces are noL~much better 
that we will in fact be able to clean up the situation. It all depends on 
Diem's effectiveness, which is very problematical. The 30% chance is that 
we would wind up like the French in 1954; white men can't win this kind 
of fight. 

On a 70-30 basis, I would myself favor going in. But if we let, say, a 
month go by before we move, the odds will slide (both short-term shock 
effect and l ong-term chance) down to 60-40, 50-50 and so on. Laos under 
a Souvanna Phouma deal is more likely than not to go sour, and will more 
and more make things difficult in South Viet-Nam, which again under- 
scores the element of time. 

Minutes of the NSC meeting of October 1 1 were not available for this study. 
But we have the following Gilpatric memorandum for the record. (The JUN- 
GLE JIM squadron — 12 planes — was an Air Force unit specially trained for 
counterinsurgency welfare. Short of engaging in combat itself, presumably it 
would be used to train Vietnamese pilots) : 

At this morning's meeting with the President the following course of ac- 
tion was agreed upon with relation to South Vietnam: 

80 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. 11 

1. The Defense Department is authorized to send the Air Force's 
Jungle Jim Squadron into Vietnam to serve under the MAAG as a training 
mission and not for combat at the present time. 

2. General Maxwell Taylor accompanied by Dr. Rostow from the 
White House, General Lansdale, a representative of JCS, Mr. Cottrell from 
State and probably someone from ISA will leave for Vietnam over the 
weekend on a Presidential mission (to be announced by the President at 
this afternoon's press conference as an economic survey) to look into the 
feasibility from both political and military standpoints of the following: 

(a) the plan for military intervention discussed at this morning's 
meeting on the basis of the Vietnam task force paper entitled "Con- 
cept for Intervention in Vietnam"; 

(b) an alternative plan for stationing in Vietnam fewer U.S. com- 
bat forces than those called for under the plan referred to in (a) 
above and with a more limited objective than dealing with the Viet 
Cong; in other words, such a small force would probably go in at 
Tourane [DaNang] and possibly another southern port principally 
for the purpose of establishing a U.S. "presence" in Vietnam; 

(c) Other alternatives in lieu of putting any U.S. combat forces in 
Vietnam, i.e. stepping up U.S. assistance and training of Vietnam 
units, furnishing of more U.S. equipment, particularly helicopters 
and other light aircraft, trucks and other ground transport, etc. 

3. During the two or three weeks that will be required for the com- 
pletion of General Taylor's mission, State will push ahead with the follow- 
ing political actions: 

(a) protest to the ICC on the step-up in North Vietnamese support 
of Viet Cong activities, 

(b) tabling at the UN a white paper based on Mr. William Jordan's 
report concerning Communist violations of the Geneva Accords, and 

(c) consultation with our SEATO allies, principally the British 
and Australians, regarding SEATO actions in support of the deteri- 
orating situation in Vietnam. 

That afternoon, the President announced the Taylor Mission, but he did not 
make the hardly credible claim that he was sending his personal military advisor 
to Vietnam to do an economic survey. He made a general announcement, and 
was non-committal when asked whether Taylor was going to consider the need 
for combat troops (there had been leaked stories in the newspapers a few days 
earlier that the Administration was considering such a move.) Nevertheless, the 
newspaper stories the next day flatly asserted that the President had said 
Taylor was going to study the need for U.S. combat troops, which was, of course, 
true, although not exactly what the President had said. 


The day after Kennedy's announcement of the Taylor mission, Reuters sent 
this dispatch from Saigon- 

Saigon, Vietnam, Oct. 12 [Reuters] — South Vietnamese military sources 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 81 

welcomed today President Kennedy's decision to send his military ad- 
viser, General Taylor, here this week. 

Sources close to President Ngo Dinh Diem said he did not feel there 
was a need here yet for troops of the United States or Southeast Asia 
Treaty Organization. 

The sources said the South Vietnamese President was convinced that 
Vietnam's Army increased in size and better equipped by increased United 
States aid can defeat the Communists. 

But a day later, the public position of the Vietnamese had shifted noticeably. 
From a New York Times dispatch from Saigon: 

One question receiving considerable attention here in the light of the 
Taylor mission is the desirability of sending United States troops to South 

The prospect of United States troop involvement is understood to have 
advanced a step here in the sense that the South Vietnamese Government 
is reported to be willing to consider such involvement which it had for- 
merly rejected. 

However, it is understood that South Vietnamese deliberations still fall 
far short of the stage wherein Saigon would be ready to request United 
States forces. 

But in private discussions with the U.S. ambassador, Diem had turned around 
completely. From Nolting's cable [Doc. 93]: 

Following major requests: 

(1) An additional squadron of AD-6 fighter bombers (in lieu of pro- 
grammed T-28's) and delivery as soon as possible. 

(2) The sending of US civilian contract pilots for helicopters and trans- 
port plans (C-47s), for "non-combat" operations. 

(3) US combat unit or uints to be introduced into SVN as "combat- 
trainer units". Proposed use would be to station a part of this force in 
northern part of SVN near 17th parallel to free ARVN forces presently 
there for anti-guerrilla combat in high plateau. Thuan also suggested 
possibility stationing some US forces in several provincial seats in 
highlands of central Vietnam. 

(4) US reaction to proposal to request govt Nationalist China to send one 
division of combat troops for operations in southwest provinces. 

* * * 

When Thuan raised question of US combat-trainer units, I asked specifi- 
cally whether this was President's considered request, mentioning his oft- 
repeated views re US combat forces here. Thuan confirmed that this was 
considered request from President; confirmed that Diem's views had 
changed in light of worsening situation. Idea was to have "symbolic" US 
strength near 17th parallel, which would serve to prevent attack there and 
free up GVN forces now stationed there for combat operations; Thuan 
said President Diem also thought similar purpose could be achieved by 
stationing US combat units in several provincial seats in highlands, thus 
freeing ARVN guard forces there. I told him this represented major re- 
quest coming on heels of President Diem's request for bilateral security 

82 Gravel Edition/ The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

treaty with United States. I asked whether this request was in lieu of the 
security treaty. Thuan first said that it represented a first step, which 
would be quicker than a treaty, and that time was of essence. After some 
discussion of the pro's and con's of a possible defense treaty (effect on 
SEATO, ICC, ratification procedures, etc.), Thuan said he felt that 
proposal for stationing token US forces in SVN would satisfy GVN and 
would serve the purpose better than a mutual defense treaty. (He had evi- 
dently not thought through this nor discussed it with Diem.) 

* * * 

Nolting then indicated he reacted skeptically to Diem's suggestion of bringing 
in Chiang's forces, and comments to Washington that he thought "this was a 
trial balloon only." He concluded the cable: 

The above questions will undoubtedly be raised with Gen Taylor. While it 
is obvious that GVN is losing no opportunity to ask for additional support 
as result our greater interest and concern this area, situation here, both 
militarily and psychologically, has moved in my judgment to point where 
serious and prompt consideration should be given to these requests. 

This cable arrived in Washington the night of October 13. The following day 
an unidentified source provided the New York Times with a detailed explana- 
tion of what the Taylor Mission was to do. From the way the Times handled 
the story it is plain that it came from a source authorized to speak for the Presi- 
dent, and probably from the President himself. The gist of the story was that 
Taylor was going to Saigon to look into all sorts of things, one of which, near 
the bottom of the list, was the question of U.S. troops at some time in the in- 
definite future. Along with a lot of more immediate questions about intelligence 
and such, Taylor was expected to "... recommend long-range programs, 
including possible military actions, but stressing broad economic and social 
measures." Furthermore, the Times was told, 

Military leaders at the Pentagon, no less than. General Taylor himself are 
understood to be reluctant to send organized U.S. combat units into South- 
east Asia. Pentagon plans for this area stress the importance of countering 
Communist guerrillas with troops from the affected countries, perhaps 
trained and equipped by the U.S., but not supplanted by U.S. troops. 

In the light of the recommendations quoted throughout this paper, and partic- 
ularly of the staff papers just described that led up to the Taylor Mission, most 
of this was simply untrue. It is just about inconceivable that this story could 
have been given out except at the direction of the President, or by him per- 
sonally. It appears, consequently, the President was less than delighted by Diem's 
request for troops. He may have suspected, quite reasonably, that Diem's request 
was prompted by the stories out of Washington that Taylor was coming to dis- 
cuss troops; or he may have wished to put a quick stop to expectations (and 
leaks) that troops were about to be sent, or both. This does not mean the Presi- 
dent had already decided not to send combat units. Presumably he had not. 
But he apparently did not want to have his hands tied. 

The Times story had the apparently desired effect. Speculation about combat 
troops almost disappeared from news stories, and Diem never again raised the 
question of combat troops: the initiative from now on came from Taylor and 
Nolting, and their recommendations were very closely held. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 83 


On the way to Saigon, Taylor stopped off in Hawaii to talk to Admiral Felt at 
CINCPAC. Felt did not give Taylor a flat recommendation on combat troops at 
the time. But a couple of days later he cabled Washington a list of pros and 

A. Pro 

( 1 ) Presence of U.S. forces in SVN, particularly if deployed to im- 
portant defensive areas such as plateau region, would mean to Communists 
that overt aggression against SVN will involve US forces from the outset. 
This eliminates possibility of sudden victory by overt aggression in SVN 
before US could react. This would settle the question for SVN, and SE 
Asians as a whole, as to whether we would come to their help. Further, 
agreement by SEATO to principle of force introduction would strengthen 
SEATO in world eyes. 

(2) Presence of strong U.S. combat forces will influence greatly South 
Vietnamese will to eliminate the Viet Cong. 

(3) If we use U.S. engineers with U.S. military protection to finish 
Dakto-Ban Net-Attapeu Road in order to enable US to operate near plateau 
border area, a military corridor of sorts will cut an important part of VC 
pipeline from north. 

(4) U.S. forces will make available larger number ARVN forces for 
employment against VC. RVNAF tasks accomplished by U.S. forces will 
decrease proportionately certain RVNAF deficiencies, particularly in logis- 
tics, communications, and air support. 

(5) U.S. forces in SVN would tend to strengthen Diem's government 
against pro-Red coup, but would not necessarily preclude non-Communist 
coup attempts. 

(6) Dividends would accrue from fact our troops could provide variety 
training for ARVN forces, broadening base now provided by MAAG. 

B. Con 

( 1 ) Would stir up big fuss throughout Asia about reintroduction of 
forces of white colonialism into SE Asia. Little question that a propaganda 
issue will be made of this in all world forums including UN. 

(2) Action could trigger intensification of Commie aggression against 
SE Asia. This may not be all-out overt aggression, but could consist, for 
example, of the DRV moving full blown combat units through the moun- 
tain passes into southern Laos under excuse that we initiated invasion of 
SE Asia and they are protecting the flank of North Vietnam. 

(3) Politically, presence of U.S. forces could hasten Commies to estab- 
lish so called "representative government" in South Vietnam. 

(4) Aside from offering Viet Cong a political target, US troops would 
constitute provocative military one, inducing VC to attack/harass it in 
manner/degree where issue might ultimately force American units active 
military campaign, or suffer defensive alternative of being pot-shot at to 
point of embarrassment. 

(5) Presence of US troops could induce Commies to resort to related 
actions such as introduction of Red Air Force elements in North Vietnam 
and accelerate modernization of DRV military forces. 

84 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

(6) This would probably mean garrisoning a U.S. division in SE Asia 
for an extended period of time in same sense as Army divisions in Korea. 
However, circumstances differ from Korea. For example, nature of VC 
warfare such that US units cannot remain long in isolation from conflict 
realities. Ultimately, they likely to be forced into varying forms of military 
engagement with VC if only for security against attacks ranging from 
assassination/sabotage to tactical harassment. In short, we should accept 
fact that likelihood our troops becoming combat engaged increases in pro- 
portion to duration of their stay. 

2. A summary of the above appears to me to add up in favor of our not 
introducing U.S. combat forces until we have exhausted other means for 
helping Diem. 


The Taylor Mission arrived in Saigon on the 18th. They had barely arrived 
when Diem went before his National Assembly to declare that the increasing 
gravity of the Viet Cong threat now required a formal proclamation of a State 
of Emergency. Diem then went off to meet with the Americans, and after such 
a spectacular opening shot must have then astonished his visitors by indicating 
that he did not want American combat troops after all. What he wanted, he 
said, was the treaty, American support for larger GVN forces, and a list of 
combat support items that nicely paralleled those Rostow listed in the note to 
McNamara quoted earlier. It was Taylor (according to Nolting's cable 516, 20 
October) who brought up the question of American combat troops. 

Taylor said he understood there had been recent discussions of intro- 
duction of American or SEATO forces into Viet-Nam and asked why 
change had occurred in earlier GVN attitude. Diem succinctly replied 
because of Laos situation. Noting it will take time to build up GVN forces 
he pointed to enemy's reinforcements through infiltration and increased 
v activities in central Viet-Nam and expressed belief that enemy is trying to 
* escalate proportionally to increase in GVN forces so that GVN will not 
gain advantage. He asked specifically for tactical aviation, helicopter com- 
panies, coastal patrol forces and logistic support (ground transport). 

Diem indicated he thought there would be no particular adverse psycho- 
logical effect internally from introducing American forces since in his 
view Vietnamese people regard Communist attack on Viet-Nam as inter- 
national problem. Rostow inquired whether internal and external political 
aspects such move could be helped if it were shown clearly to world that 
this is international problem. Diem gave no direct comment on this sug- 
gestion. He indicated two main aspects of this problem: (1) Vietnamese 
people are worried about absence formal commitment by US to Viet- 
Nam. They fear that if situation deteriorates Viet-Nam might be aban- 
doned by US. If troops are introduced without a formal commitment they 
can be withdrawn at any time and thus formal commitment is even more 
important in psychological sense. (2) Contingency plan should be prepared 
re use American forces in Viet-Nam at any time this may become neces- 
sary. In this connection Diem seemed to be talking about combat forces. 
While it was not completely clear what Diem has in mind at present time 
he seemed to be saying that he wants bilateral defense treaty and prepara- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 85 

tion of plans for use American forces (whatever is appropriate) but under 
questioning he did not repeat his earlier idea relayed to me by Thuan that 
he wanted combat forces. 

Here, as earlier, we get no explicit statement on Washington's attitude toward 
a treaty. Further, no strong conclusion can be drawn from the fact that Taylor 
took the initiative in raising the issue of troops, since it might have been awk- 
ward not to mention the issue at all after Thuan's presentation to Nolting a 
few days previous. 

But on the 23rd, we find this in a cable from MA AG Chief McGarr: 

Serious flood in Mekong delta area . . . (worse since 1937) raises 
possibility that flood relief could be justification for moving in US military 
personnel for humanitarian purposes with subsequent retention if desir- 
able. Gen. Taylor and Ambassador evaluating feasibility and desirability. 

Taylor met with Diem and Thuan again the following day, the 24th. Taylor 
provided the Vietnamese a written summary of items he described as "personal 
ideas to which I was seeking their reaction." Item E was headed "Introduction 
of U.S. Combat troops)." It proposed "a flood relief task force, largely military 
in composition, to work with GVN over an extended period of rehabilitation of 
areas. Such a force might contain engineer, medical, signal, and transporta- 
tion elements as well as combat troops for the protection of relief operations." 
Diem now seems to have changed his mind again on combat troops. Here is the 

1. The essential conclusions which we have reached at the end of a week 
of briefings, consultations, and field trips follow: 

A. There is a critical political-military situation in SVN brought on 
by western policy in Laos and by the continued build-up of the VC and 
their recent successful attacks. These circumstances coupled with the 
major flood disaster in the southwestern provinces have combined to cre- 
ate a deep and pervasive crisis of confidence and a serious loss in national 

B. In the field, the military operations against the VC are ineffective 
because of the absence of reliable intelligence on the enemy, an unclear 
and unresponsive channel of command responsibility in the Armed 
Forces, and the tactical immobility of the VN ground forces. This im- 
mobility leads to a system of passive, fragmented defense conceding 
the initiative to the enemy and leaving him free to pick the targets of 
attack. The harassed population exposed to these attacks turn to the 
government for better protection and the latter responds by assigning 
more static missions to the Army units, thus adding to their immobility. 
In the end, the Army is allowed neither to train nor to fight but awaits 
enemy attacks in relative inaction. 

C. The situation in the Saigon is volatile but, while morale is down 
and complaints against the government are rife, there is not hard evi- 
dence of a likely coup against Diem. He still has no visible rival or re- 

2. To cope with the foregoing situation, we are considering recom- 
mending a number of possible forms of GVN-US cooperation to reverse 
the present downward trend, stimulate an offensive spirit and buildup 

Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol 11 

morale. In company with Ambassador Nolting, Dr. Rostow and Mr. 
Mendenhall, I discussed some of these Oct 24 with Diem and Thuan, ad- 
vancing them as personal ideas to which I was seeking their informal 
reaction. The following outline, distributed in French translation at the 
start of the interview, indicates the scope of the discussion. 

A. Improvement of intelligence on V.C.: the available intelligence 
on V.C. insurgency is inadequate both for tactical requirements and for 
basis of judgment of situation at governmental levels. A joint GVN-US 
effort should be able to improve organization, techniques and end 
product to mutual advantage both parties. 

B. Joint survey of security situation at provincial level: The current 
situation can best be appraised at provincial level where the basic intel- 
ligence is found, the incidents occur, and the defenses are tested. The 
problems vary from province to province and hence require local 
analysis on the spot. Such a survey should result in better understanding 
of such important matters as quality of basic intelligence on V.C, needs 
of civil guard and self defense corps, command relationships between 
provincial and Army officials and conditions under which assumption 
of offensive might be possible. 

C. Improvement of Army mobility: it appears that size of ARVN 
can not be much increased before end 1962; to make it more effective 
and allowing it to cope with increasing number of V.C, it must be given 
greater mobility. Such mobility can come from two sources. (1) moving 
Army from static missions and (2) making available to it improved 
means of transport, notably helicopters and light aircraft. Both methods 
should be considered. 

D. Blocking infiltration into high plateau: increase in enemy forces 
in high plateau requires special measures for defense and for counter- 
guerrilla actions. It is suggested that a carefully tailored "frontier ranger 
force" be organized from existing ranger units and introduced into the 
difficult terrain along the Laos/Vietnam frontier for attack and defense 
against the Viet Cong. This force should be trained and equipped for 
extended service on the frontier and for operations against the com- 
munications lines of the VC who have infiltrated into the high plateau 
and adjacent areas. 

E. Introduction of U.S. Military Forces: GVN is faced with major 
civil problem arising from flood devastation in western provinces. The 
allies should offer help to GVN according to their means. In the case of 
U.S., two ways of rendering help should be considered. One is of emer- 
gency type, such as offer of U.S. military helicopters for reconnaissance 
of conditions of flooded areas and for emergency delivery medical sup- 
plies and like. A more significant contribution might be a flood relief 
task force, largely military in composition, to work with GVN over an 
extended period for rehabilitation of area. Such a force might contain 
engineer, medical, signal, and transportation elements as well as combat 
troops for the protection of relief operations. Obviously, such a military 
source would also provide U.S. military presence in Viet Nam and would 
constitute military reserve in case of heightened military crisis. 

F. Actions to emphasize national emergency and beginning of a new 
phase in the war: we should consider jointly all possible measures to 
emphasize turning point has been reached in dealing with Communist 
aggression. Possible actions might include appeal to United Nations, an 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 87 

assessment by GVN of governmental changes to cope with crisis and 
exchange of letters between the two heads of State expressing their 
partnership in a common cause. 

3. Dien's reaction on all points was favorable. He expressed satisfaction 
with idea of introducing U.S. forces in connection with flood relief activ- 
ities, observing that even the opposition elements in this crisis had joined 
with the majority in supporting need for presence of U.S. forces. In the 
course of the meeting, nothing was formally proposed or agreed but the 
consensus was that the points considered might form agenda for a program 
of increased GVN-US cooperation offering promise of overcoming many of 
the current difficulties of GVN. There were no exact figures discussed with 
regard to such matters as troop strengths, equipment, or flood relief . . . 

* * * 

5. Because of the importance of acting rapidly once we have made up 
our minds, I will cable my recommendations to Washington enroute home. 

Simultaneously with this cable, Taylor sent a second "eyes only" for the 
President, Chairman of the JCS, Director of CIA, McNamara, and Rusk and 
Alexis Johnson at State. The cable is a little confusing; for although it sets out 
to comment on "U.S. military forces" it concerns only the flood Task Force, not 
mentioning the various other types of military forces (helicopter companies, 
etc.) which were envisioned. The same slight confusion appears in the "eyes 
only for the President" cable on this issue to be quoted shortly. The impression 
Taylor's choice of language leaves is that the support forces (helicopter com- 
panies, expanded MAAG, etc.) he was recommending were_ essentially already 
agreed to. by the President before Taylor left Washington, and consequently his ; 
detailed justification went only to the kind of forces on which a decision was \ 
yet to be made — that is, ground forces liable to become involved in direct en- 
gagements with the Viet Cong. 

Here is the cable from Saigon, followed by the two "Eyes only for the Presi- 
dent" from the Philippines which sum up his "fundamental conclusions." 




* * * 

With regard to the critical question of introducing U.S. military forces 
into VN: 

My view is that we should put in a task force consisting largely of logistical 
troops for the purpose of participating in flood relief and at the same time 
of providing a U.S. military presence in VN capable of assuring Diem of j 
our readiness to join him in a military showdown with the Viet Cong or j 

88 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

Viet Minh. To relate the introduction of these troops to the needs of 
flood relief seems to me to offer considerable advantages in VN and 
j abroad. It gives a specific humanitarian task as the prime reason for the 
I coming of our troops and avoids any suggestion that we are taking over 
responsibility for the security of the country. As the task is a specific one, 
we can extricate our troops when it is done if we so desire. Alternatively, 
we can phase them into other activities if we wish to remain longer. 
The strength of the force I have in mind on the order of 6-8000 troops. 
Its initial composition should be worked out here after study of the possible 
requirements and conditions for its use and subsequent modifications made 
with experience. 

In addition to the logistical component, it will be necessary to include some 
combat troops for the protection of logistical operations and the defense 
of the area occupied by U.S. forces. Any troops coming to VN may expect 
to take casualties. 

Needless to say, this kind of task force will exercise little direct influence 
on the campaign against the V.C. It will, however, give a much needed shot 
in the arm to national morale, particularly if combined with other actions 
showing that a more effective working relationship in the common cause 
has been established between the GVN and the U.S. 



1. Transmitted herewith are a summary of the fundamental conclusions 
of my group and my personal recommendations in response to the letter 
of the President to me dated 13 October 1961. * ****** 

2. It is concluded that: 

a. Communist strategy aims to gain control of Southeast Asia by 
methods of subversion and guerrilla war which by-pass conventional 
U.S. and indigenous strength on the ground. The interim Communist 
goal — en route to total take-over — appears to be a neutral Southeast 
Asia, detached from U.S. protection. . This strategy is well on the way 
to success in Vietnam. 

b. In Vietnam (and Southeast Asia) there is a double crisis in confi- 
dence: doubt that U.S. is determined to save Southeast Asia; doubt that 
Diem's methods can frustrate and defeat Communist purposes and 
methods. The Vietnamese (and Southeast Asians) will undoubtedly 
draw — rightly or wrongly — definitive conclusions in coming weeks 
and months concerning the probable outcome and will adjust their 
behavior accordingly. What the U.S. does or fails to do will be decisive 
to the end result. 

c. Aside from the morale factor, the Vietnamese Government is 
caught in interlocking circles of bad tactics and bad administrative 
arrangements which pin their forces on the defensive in ways which 
permit a relatively small Viet-Cong force (about one-tenth the size of 
the GVN regulars) to create conditions of frustration and terror certain 
to lead to a political crisis, if a positive turning point is not soon 
achieved. The following recommendations are designed to achieve that 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 89 

favorable turn, to avoid a further deterioration in the situation in South 
Vietnam, and eventually to contain and eliminate the threat to its inde- 

3. It is recommended: 

a. That upon request from the Government of Vietnam (GVN) to 
come to its aid in resisting the increasing aggressions of the Viet-Cong 
and in repairing the ravages of the Delta flood which, in combination, 
threaten the lives of its citizens and the security of the country, the U.S. 
Government offer to join the GV in a massive joint effort as a part of a 
total mobilization of GVN resources to cope with both the Viet-Cong 
(VC) and the ravages of the flood. The U.S. representatives will partici- 
pate actively in this effort, particularly in the fields of government ad- 
ministration, military plans and operations, intelligence, and flood relief, 
going beyond the advisory role which they have observed in the past. 


b. That in support of the foregoing broad commitment to a joint 
effort with Diem, the following specific measures be undertaken: 

( 1 ) The U.S. Government will be prepared to provide individual 
administrators for insertion into the governmental machinery of 
South Vietnam in types and numbers to be worked out with President 

(2) A joint effort will be made to improve the military-political 
intelligence system beginning at the provincial level and extending 
upward through the government and armed forces to the Central 
Intelligence Organization. 

(3) The U.S. Government will engage in a joint survey of the 
conditions in the provinces to assess the social, political, intelligence, 
and military factors bearing on the prosecution of the counter-insur- 
gency in order to reach a common estimate of these factors and a 
common determination of how to deal with them. As this survey will 
consume time, it should not hold back the immediate actions which 
are clearly needed regardless of its outcome. 

(4) A joint effort will be made to free the Army for mobile, offen- 
sive operations. This effort will be based upon improving the training 
and equipping of the Civil Guard and the Self-Defense Corps, 
relieving the regular Army of static missions, raising the level of the 
mobility of Army Forces by the provision of considerably more heli- 
copters and light aviation, and organizing a Border Ranger Force 
for a long-term campaign on the Laotian border against the Viet- 
Cong infiltrators. The U.S. Government will support this effort with 
equipment and with military units and personnel to do those tasks 
which the Armed Forces of Vietnam cannot perform in time. Such 
tasks include air reconnaissance and photography, airlift (beyond 
the present capacity of SVN forces), special intelligence, and air- 
ground support techniques. 

90 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

(5) The U.S. Government will assist the GVN in effective surveil- 
lance and control over the coastal waters and inland waterways, 
furnishing such advisors, operating personnel and small craft as may 
be necessary for quick and effective operations. 

(6) The MA AG, Vietnam, will be reorganized and increased in 
size as may be necessary by the implementation of these recommenda- 

(7) The U.S. Government will offer to introduce into South Viet- 
nam a military .Task^ Force^ to operate under U.S. control for the fol- 
lowing purposes: 

(a) Provide a U.S. military presence capable of raising national 
morale and of showing to Southeast Asia the seriousness of the 
U.S. intent to resist a Communist take-over. 

(b) Conduct logistical operations in support of military and 
flood relief operations. 

(c) Conduct such combat operations as are necessary for self- 
defense and for the security of the area in which they are stationed. 

(d) Provide an emergency reserve to back up the Armed Forces 
of the GVN in the case of a heightened military crisis. 

(e) Act as an advance party of such additional forces as may 
be introduced if CINCPAC or SEATO contingency plans are in- 

(8) The U.S. Government will review its economic aid program 
to take into account the needs of flood relief and to give priority to 
those projects in support of the expanded counterinsurgency program. 



This message is for the purpose of presenting my reasons for recom- 
mending the introduction of a U.S. military force into South Vietnam 
(SVN). I have reached the conclusion that t his is an e ssential action 
if we are to reverse the present downward trend of events in spite 
of a full recognition of the following disadvantages: 

a. The strategic reserve of U.S. forces is presently so weak that 
we can ill afford any detachment of forces to a peripheral area of the 
Communist bloc where they will be pinned down for an uncertain dura- 

b. Although U.S. prestige is already engaged in SVN, it will become 
more so by the sending of troops. 

c. If the first contingent is not enough to accomplish the necessary 
results, it will be difficult to resist the pressure to reinforce. If the 
ultimate result sought is the closing of the frontiers and the clean-up 
of the insurgents within SVN, there is no limit to our possible com- 
mitment (unless we attack the source in Hanoi). 

d. The introduction of U.S. forces may increase tensions and risk 
escalation into a major war in Asia. 

On the other side of the argument, there can be no action so convincing 
of U.S. seriousness of purpose and hence so reassuring to the people 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 91 

and Government of SVN and to our other friends and allies in SEA as 
the introduction of U.S. forces into SVN. The views of indigenous and 
U.S. officials consulted on our trip were unanimous on this point. I 
have just seen Saigon 545 to State and suggest that it be read in con- 
nection with this message. 

The size of the U.S. force introduced need not be great to provide the 
military presence necessary to produce the desired effect on national 
morale in SVN and on international opinion. A bare token, however, 
will not suffice; it must have a significant value. The kinds of tasks 
which it might undertake which would have a significant value are sug- 
gested in BAGU5 (previous cable, 3.b.(7) ). They are: 

(a) Provide a US military presence capable of raising national 
morale and of showing to Southeast Asia the seriousness of the US 
intent to resist a Communist take-over. 

(b) Conduct logistical operations in support of military and flood 
relief operations. 

(c) Conduct such combat operations as are necessary for self- 
defense and for the security of the area in which they are stationed. 

(d) Provide an emergency reserve to back up the Armed Forces of 
the GVN in the case of a heightened military crisis. 

(e) Act as an advance party of such additional forces as may be in- 
troduced if CINCPAC or SEATO contingency plans are invoked. 

It is noteworthy that this force is not proposed to clear the jungles and 
forests of Viet Cong guerrillas. That should be the primary task of 
the Armed Forces of Vietnam for which they should be specifically or- 
ganized, trained, and stiffened with ample U.S. advisors down to combat 
battalion levels. However, the U.S. troops may be called upon to engage in 
combat to protect themselves, their working parties, and the area in which 
they live. As a general reserve, they might be thrown into action (with 
U.S. agreement) against large, formed guerrilla bands which have aban- 
doned the forests for attacks on major targets. But in general, our forces 
should not engage in small-scale guerrilla operations in the jungle. 

As an area for the operations of U.S. troops, SVN is not an excessively v 
difficult or unpleasant place to operate. While the border areas are rugged 
and heavily forested, the terrain is comparable to parts of Korea where 
U.S. troops learned to live and work without too much effort. However, 
these border areas, for reasons stated above, are not the places to engage 
our forces. In the High Plateau and in the coastal plain where U.S. troops 
would probably be stationed, these jungle-forest conditions do not exist to 
any great extent. The most unpleasant feature in the coastal areas would be 
the heat and, in the Delta, the mud left behind by the flood. The High 
Plateau offers no particular obstacle to the stationing of U.S. troops. 

The extent to which the Task Force would engage in flood relief ac- 
tivities in the Delta will depend upon further study of the problem there. 
As reported in Saigon 537, I see considerable advantages in playing up 
this aspect of the Task Force mission. I am presently inclined to favor a 
dual mission, initially help to the flood area and subsequently use in any 
other area of SVN where its resources can be used effectively to give tan- 
gible support in the struggle against the Viet Cong. However, the 
possibility of emphasizing the humanitarian mission will wane if we wait 

92 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

long in moving in our forces or in linking our stated purpose with the 
emergency conditions created by the flood. 

The risks of backing into a major Asian war by way of SVN are present 
but are not impressive. NVN is extremely vulnerable to conventional 
bombing, a weakness which should be exploited diplomatically in con- 
vincing Hanoi to lay off SVN. Both the DRV and the Chicoms would 
face severe logistical difficulties in trying to maintain strong forces in the 
field in SEA, difficulties which we share but by no means to the same 
degree. There is no case for fearing a mass onslaught of Communist man- 
power into SVN and its neighboring states, particularly if our airpower is 
allowed a free hand against logistical targets. Finally, the starvation con- 
ditions in China should discourage Communist leaders there from being 
militarily venturesome for some time to come. 

By the foregoing line of reasoning, I have reached the conclusion that 
the introduction of a U.S. military Task Force without delay offers def- 
initely more advantage than it creates risks and difficulties. In_fact, I do 
not believe that our program to save SVN will succeed without it. If the 
concept is approved, the exact size and composition of the force should 
be determined by the Secretary of Defense in consultation with the JCS, 
the Chief MAAG, and CINCPAC. My own feeling is that the initial size 
should not exceed about ,8000, of which a preponderant number would be 
in logistical-type units. After acquiring experience in operating in SVN, this 
initial force will require reorganization and adjustment to the local scene. 

As CINCPAC will point out, any forces committed to SVN will need to 
be replaced by additional forces to his area from the strategic reserve in 
the U.S. Also, any troops to SVN are in addition to those which may be 
required to execute SEATO Plan 5 in Laos. Both facts should be taken 
into account in current considerations of the FY 1963 budget which bear 
upon the permanent increase which should be made in the U.S. military 
establishment to maintain our strategic position for the long pull. 

These cables, it will be noticed, are rather sharply focused on the insurgency 
as a problem reducible to fairly conventional military technique and tactics. 
Together with the cables from Saigon, the impression is given that the major 
needs are getting the Army to take the offensive, building up a much better in- 
telligence setup, and persuading Diem to loosen up Administrative impediments 
to effective use of his forces. 

E. The Taylor Report 

A report of the Taylor Mission was published November 3, in the form of a 
black loose-leaf notebook containing a letter of transmittal of more than routine 
significance, a 25-page "Evaluation and Conclusions," then a series of mem- 
oranda by members of the mission. Of these, the most important, of course, 
were the Taylor cables, which, being "Eyes only for the President," were deleted 
from all but one or a very few copies of the report. There is no separate paper 
from Rostow, and his views presumably are reflected in the unsigned summary 

The impression the "Evaluation" paper gives is more easily summarized than 
its details. For the impression is clearly one of urgency combined with optimism. 
Essentially, it says South Vietnam is in serious trouble; major interests of the 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 93 

United States are at stake; but if the U.S. promptly and energetically takes up 
the challenge, a victory can be had without a U.S. take-over of the war. 

For example: 

Despite the intellectuals who sit on the side lines and complain; despite 
serious dissidence among the Montagnards, the sects, and certain old Viet 
Minh areas; despite the apathy and fear of the Viet-Cong in the country- 
side, the atmosphere in South Vietnam is, on balance, one of frustrated 
energy rather than passive acceptance of inevitable defeat. 

It cannot be emphasized too strongly, however, that time has nearly 
run out for converting these assets into the bases for victory. Diem him- 
self — and all concerned with the fate of the country — are looking 
to American guidance and aid to achieve a turning point in Vietnam's 
affairs. From all quarters in Southeast Asia the message on Vietnam is the 
same: vigorous American action is needed to bu^jtime for Vietnam to 
mobilize and organize its real assets; but the time for such a turn around 
has nearly run out. And if Vietnam goes, it will be exceedingly difficult if 
not impossible to hold Southeast Asia. What will be lost is not merely a j 
crucial piece of real estate, but the faith that the U.S. has the will and the 
capacity to deal with the Communist offensive in that area. 

The report, drawing on the appendices, includes a wide range of proposals. 
[Doc. 94] But the major emphasis, very emphatically, is on two ideas: First, 
there must be a firm, unambiguous military commitment to remove doubts 
about U.S. resolve arising out of the Laos negotiations; second, there is great 
emphasis on the idea that the Diem regime's own evident weaknesses — from 
"the famous problem of Diem as administrator" to the Army's lack of offensive 
spirit — could be cured if enough dedicated Americans, civilian and military, 
became involved in South Vietnam to show the South Vietnamese, at all levels, 
how to get on and win the war. The much-urged military Task Force, for ex- 
ample, was mainly to serve the first purpose, but partly also to serve the second: 
"the presence of American military forces in the [flood] area should also give 
us an opportunity to work intensively with the civil guards and with other local 
military elements and to explore the possibility of suffusing them with an offen- 
sive spirit and tactics." 

Here are a few extracts which give the flavor of the discussion: 

"It is evident that morale in Vietnam will rapidly crumble — and in 
Southeast Asia only slightly less quickly — if the sequence of expectations 
set in motion by Vice President Johnson's visit and climaxed by General 
Taylor's mission are not soon followed by a hard U.S. commitment to the 
ground in Vietnam. [Emphasis added] 

The elements required for buying time and assuming the offensive in Vietnam 
are, in the view of this mission, the following: 

1. A quick U.S. response to the present crisis which would demon- 
strate by deeds — not merely words — the American commitment se- 
riously to help save Vietnam rather than to disengage in the most 
convenient manner possible. To be persuasive this commitment must 
include the sending to Vietnam of some U.S. military forces. 

94 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

2. A shift in the American relation to the Vietnamese effort from 
advice to limited partnership. The present character and scale of the 
war in South Vietnam decree that only the Vietnamese can defeat the 
Viet Cong; but at all levels Americans must, as friends and partners — not 
as arms-length advisors — show them how the job might be done — not 
tell them or do it for them. 

* * * 

"Perhaps the most striking aspect of this mission's effort is the unanimity 
of view — individually arrived at by the specialists involved — that what is 
now required is a shift from U.S. advice to limited partnership and work- 
ing collaboration with the Vietnamese. The present war cannot be won 
by direct U.S. action; it must be won by the Vietnamese. But there is a 
general conviction among us that the Vietnamese performance in every 
domain can be substantially improved if Americans are prepared to work 
side by side with the Vietnamese on the key problems. Moreover, there is 
evidence that Diem is, in principle, prepared for this step, and that most 
— not all — elements in his establishment are eagerly awaiting it. 

Here is a section titled "Reforming Diem's Administrative Method": 

The famous problem of Diem as an administrator and politician could 
be resolved in a number of ways: 

— By his removal in favor of a military dictatorship which would give 
dominance to the military chain of command. 

— By his removal in favor of a figure of more dilute power (e.g., Vice 
President Nguyen Ngoc Tho) who would delegate authority to act to 
both military and civil leaders. 

— By bringing about a series of de facto administrative changes via per- 
suasion at high levels; collaboration with Diem's aides who want improved 
administration; and by a U.S. operating presence at many working levels, 
using the U.S. presence (e.g., control over the helicopter squadrons) for 
forcing the Vietnamese to get their house in order in one area 
after another. 

We have opted for the third choice, on the basis of both merit and 

Our reasons for these: First, it would be dangerous for us to engineer 
a coup under present tense circumstances, since it is by no means certain 
that we could control its consequences and potentialities for Communist 
exploitation. Second, we are convinced that a part of the complaint about 
Diem's administrative methods conceals a lack of first-rate executives who 
can get things done. In the endless debate between Diem and his subor- 
dinates (Diem complaining of limited executive material; his subordinates, 
of Diem's bottleneck methods) both have hold of a piece of the truth. 

The proposed strategy of limited partnership is designed both to force 
clear delegation of authority in key areas and to beef up Vietnamese ad- 
ministration until they can surface and develop the men to take over. 

This is a difficult course to adopt. We can anticipate some friction and 
reluctance until it is proved that Americans can be helpful partners and 
that the techniques will not undermine Diem's political position. Shifts in 
U.S. attitudes and methods of administration as well as Vietnamese are 
required. But we are confident that it is the right way to proceed at this 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 95 

stage; and, as noted earlier, there is reason for confidence if the right men 
are sent to do the right jobs. 

On many points the tone, and sometimes the substance, of the appendices 
by the lesser members of the Mission (with the exception of one by Lansdale) 
are in sharp contrast to the summary paper. 

William Jorden of State begins a discussion of "the present situation" by re- 

One after another, Vietnamese officials, military men and ordinary cit- 
izens spoke to me of the situation in their country as "grave" and "dete- 
riorating." They are distressed at the evidence of growing Viet Cong suc- 
cesses. They have lost confidence in President Diem and in his leadership. 
Men who only one or two months ago would have hesitated to say any- 
thing critical of Diem, now explode in angry denunciation of the man, his 
family, and his methods. 

And after a page of details, Jorden sums up with: 

Intrigue, nepotism and even corruption might be accepted, for a time, 
if combined with efficiency and visible progress. When they accompany 
administrative paralysis and steady deterioration, they become intolerable. 

But the summary paper, under the heading of "The Assets of South Viet- 
nam," lists: 

With all his weaknesses, Diem has extraordinary ability, stubbornness, 
and guts. 

Despite their acute frustration, the men of the Armed Forces and the 
administration respect Diem to a degree which gives their grumbling (and 
perhaps some plotting) a somewhat half-hearted character; and they are 
willing — by and large — to work for him, if he gives them a chance to do 
their jobs. 

The military annex contains this summary comment on the South Vietnamese 

The performance of the ARVN is disappointing and generally is charac- 
terized by a lack of aggressiveness and at most levels is devoid of a sense 
or urgency. The Army is short of able young trained leaders, both in the 
officer and NCO ranks. The basic soldier, as a result, is poorly trained, in- 
adequately oriented, lacking in desire to close with the enemy and for the 
most part unaware of the serious inroads communist guerrillas are making 
in his country. 

But the main paper, again in the summary of South Vietnamese assets, re- 
ports that the South Vietnamese regulars are "of better quality than the Viet 
Cong Guerrillas." 

The point is not that the summary flatly contradicts the appendices. For ex- 
ample, the statement about the superior quality of ARVN, compared to the 
Viet Cong, is qualified with the remark "if it can bring the Communists to 
engagement," and can be explained to mean only that the more heavily armed 
ARVN could defeat a VC force in a set-piece battle. But the persistence ten- 
dency of the summary is to put Saigon's weaknesses in the best light, and avoid 

96 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

anything that might suggest that perhaps the U.S. should consider limiting, 
rather than increasing, its commitments to the Diem regime, or alternatively 
face up to a need to openly take over the war. 

In contrast, the appendices contemplate (if they do not always recommend) 
the more drastic alternatives. The military appendix argues (in a paraphrase of 
the JCS position quoted earlier) that the U.S. ought to move into Southeast 
Asia, preferably Laos, in force. The appendix by Sterling Cottrell of State (chair- 
man of the Vietnam Task Force) suggests an opposite view: 

Since it is an open question whether the GVN can succeed even with 
U.S. assistance, it would be a mistake for the U.S. to commit itself irrev- 
ocably to the defeat of the communists in SVN. 

And Cottrell, in the only explicit statement in the available record on why 
the U.S. would not want to give Diem the treaty he had asked for, states: 

The Communist operation starts from the lowest social level — the vil- 
lages. The battle must be joined and won at this point. If not, the Com- 
munists will ultimately control all but the relatively few areas of strong 
military concentrations. Foreign military forces cannot themselves win the 
battle at the village level. Therefore, the primary responsibility for saving 
the country must rest with the GVN. 

For the above reason, the U.S. should assist the GVN. This rules out 
any treaty or pact which either shifts ultimate responsibility to the U.S., 
or engages any full U.S. commitment to eliminate the Viet Cong threat. 

(And a treaty which did not apply to the Viet Cong threat would hardly be 
a very reassuring thing to Saigon; while one that did would face an uncertain 
future when it came to the Senate for ratification.) 

Yet, Jorden and Cottrell had nothing much to recommend that was partic- 
ularly different from what was recommended in the summary. The effect of 
their papers is to throw doubt on the prospects for success of the intervention 
proposed. But their recommendations come out about the same way, so that if 
their papers seem more realistic in hindsight than the main paper, they also seem 
more confused. 

Cottrell, after recommending that the U.S. avoid committing itself irrev- 
ocably to winning in South Vietnam, goes on to recommend: 

The world should continue to be impressed that this situation of overt DRV 
aggression, below the level of conventional warfare, must be stopped in the 
best interest of every free nation. 

The idea that, if worse comes to worst, the U.S. could probably save its posi- 
tion in Vietnam by bombing the north, seems to underlie a good deal of the 
optimism that pervades the summary paper. And even Cottrell, in the last of 
his recommendations, states: 

If the combined U.S./GVN efforts are insufficient to reverse the trend, 
we should then move to the "Rostow Plan" of applying graduated meas- 
ures on the DRV with weapons of our own choosing. 

Taylor, in his personal recommendations to the President (the cables from 
Baguio quoted earlier), spoke of the "extreme vulnerability of North Vietnam 
to conventional bombing." 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 97 

The summary paper, in its contrast between the current war and the war the 
French lost, states: 

Finally, the Communists now not only have something to gain — the 
South — but a base to lose — the North — if war should come. 

Bombing was not viewed as the answer to all problems. If things did not go 
well, the report saw a possible requirement for a substantial commitment of U.S. 
ground troops. In a section on South Vietnamese reserves, there is the comment 

... it is an evident requirement that the United States review quick 
action contingency plans to move into Vietnam, should the scale of the 
Vietnam [Viet Cong?] offensive radically increase at a time when Viet- 
namese reserves are inadequate to cope with it. Such action might be de- 
signed to take over the responsibility for the security of certain relatively 
quiet areas, if the battle remained at the guerrilla level, or to fight the 
Communists if open war were attempted. 

And the concluding paragraphs of the summary state that: 

One of the major issues raised by this report is the need to develop the 
reserve strength in the U.S. establishment required to cover action in 
Southeast Asia up to the nuclear threshold in that area, as it is now en- 
visaged. The call up of additional support forces may be required. 

In our view, nothing is more calculated to sober the enemy and to dis- 
courage escalation in the face of the limited initiatives proposed here than 
the knowledge that the United States has prepared itself soundly to deal 
with aggression in Southeast Asia at any level. 

But these warnings were directed to an unexpectedly strong Viet Cong show- 
ing during the period of buildup of ARVN, and more still to deterring the like- 
lihood of a Communist resumption of their offensive in Laos, or of an overt 
invasion of South Vietnam. The Vietnam contingencies; in particular, were not 
viewed as likely. But the possibility of bombing the North was viewed otherwise. 
The clearest statements are in General Taylor's letter of transmittal: 

While we feel that the program recommended represents those 
measures which should be taken in our present knowledge of the situation 
in Southeast Asia, I would not suggest that it is the final word. Future needs 
beyond this program will depend upon the kind of settlement we obtain 
in Laos and the manner in which Hanoi decides to adjust its conduct to 
that settlement. If the Hanoi decision is to continue the irregular war de- 
clared of South Vietnam in 1959 with continued infiltration and covert 
support of guerrilla bands in the territory of our ally/we .will then have to 
decide whether to accept as legitimate the continued ^guidance, training, 
and support of a guerrilla war across an international boundary, while the. 
attacked react only inside Jhe]r) borders. Can we admit the establishment 
of the common law that the party attacked and his friends are denied the 
right to strike the source of aggression, after the fact of external aggres- 
sion is clearly established? It is our view that our government should under- 
take with the Vietnamese the measures outlined herein, but should then 
consider and face the broader question beyond. 

98 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

We cannot refrain from expressing, having seen the situation on the 
ground, our common sense of outrage at the burden which this kind of 
aggression imposes on a, new country, only seven years old, with a difficult 
historical heritage to overcome, confronting the inevitable problems of 
political, social, and economic transition to modernization. It is easy and 
cheap to destroy such a country whereas it is difficult undisturbed to build 
a nation coming out of a complex past without carrying the burden of a 
guerrilla war. 

We were similarly struck in Thailand with the injustice of subjecting 
this promising nation in transition to the heavy military burdens it faces 
in fulfilling its role in SEATO security planning along with the guerrilla 
challenge beginning to form up on its northeast frontier. 

It is my judgment and that of my colleagues that the United States must 
decide how it will cope with Krushchev's "wars of liberation" which are 
really para-wars of guerrilla aggression. This is a new and dangerous Com- 
munist technique which bypasses our traditional political and military 
. responses. While the final answer lies beyond the scope of this report, it 
is clear to me that the time may come in our relations to Southeast Asia 
when we must declare our intention to attack the source of guerrilla 
aggression in North Vietnam and impose on the Hanoi Government a price 
for participating in the current war which is commensurate with the 
damage being inflicted on its neighbors to the south. 


To a current reader, and very likely to the officials in Washington who had 
access to the full Taylor Mission Report (including Taylor's personal recom- 
mendations), there really seem to be three reports, not one. 

1. Taylor's own cables read like, as of course they were, a soldier's crisp, 
direct analysis of the military problem facing the Saigon government. With 
regard to the Diem regime, the emphasis is on a need to build up intelligence 
capabilities, clear up administrative drags on efficient action, and take the of- 
fensive in seeking out and destroying VC units. 

2. The main paper in the Report (the "Evaluations and Conclusions") in- 
corporates General Taylor's views on the military problems. But, it is much 
broader, giving primary emphasis to the military problem, but also some atten- 
tion to what we now call the "other war," and even more to conveying an es- 
sentially optimistic picture of the opportunities for a vigorous American effort 
to provide the South Vietnamese government and army with the elan and style 
needed to win. This paper was presumably drafted mainly by Rostow, with con- 
tributions from other members of the party. 

It is consistent with Rostow's emphasis before and since on the Viet Cong 
problem as a pretty straight-forward case of external aggression. There is no 
indication of the doubts expressed in the Alexis Johnson "Concept of Interven- 
tion in Vietnam" paper that Diem might not be able to defeat the Viet Cong 
even if infiltration were largely cut off. At one point, for example, the paper 
tells its readers: 

It must be remembered that the 1959 political decision in Hanoi to launch 
the guerrilla and political campaign of 1960-61 arose because of Diem's 
increasing success in stabilizing his rule and moving his country forward 
in the several preceding years. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 99 

On the very next page (perhaps reflecting the vagaries of committee papers) 
the paper does not itself "remember" this description of conditions when the 
war started. For it states: 

The military frustration of the past two months has . . . made acute, 
throughout his administration, dissatisfaction with Diem's method of rule, 
with his lack of identification with his people, and with his strategy which 
has been endemic for some years. 

But that seems only a momentary lapse from the general line of the paper, 
which is fairly reflected in the recommendation that we tell Moscow to: 

use its influence with Ho Chi Minh to call his dogs off, mind his business, 
and feed his people. 

3. Finally, there were the appendices by the military and especially the State 
representatives on the Mission which, as indicated by the extracts given in the 
previous section, paint a much darker picture than the reader gets from the main 
paper. Even when, as is frequently the case, their recommendations are not 
much different from the main paper, the tone is one of trying to make the 
best of a bad situation, rather than of seizing an opportunity. 

Because of these distinctions between the different parts of the Report, two 
people reading the full Report could come away with far different impressions 
of what sort of problem the U.S. was facing in Vietnam, depending on which 
parts of the Report seemed to them to ring truest. Presumably, officials' judg- 
ments here were influenced by their reading of the series of cables that arrived 
during and just after the Taylor visit, many of which touch on critical points 
of the report. 

Here are some samples. 

The day Taylor left, Nolting sent a cable describing the immediate mood in 
Saigon in pretty desperate terms. All parts of the Taylor Report, including the 
main paper, did the same. The distinctions in describing the situation were in 
how deep-rooted the immediate malaise was seen. The main effect of this cable 
from Nolting was presumably to add weight to the warning of the Report that 
something dramatic had to be done if the U.S. were not ready to risk a collapse 
in Saigon within a few months. As the Taylor Report stressed and the cable 
implies, the very fact of the Taylor Mission would have a very negative impact 
if nothing came out of it. 

There has been noticeable rise in Saigon's political temperature during 
past week. Taylor visit, though reassuring in some respects, has been in- 
terpreted by many persons as demonstrating critical stage which VC in- 
surgency has reached . . . Following deterioration of general security 
conditions over past two months cancellation October 26 national day 
celebrations to devote resources to flood relief and terse, dramatic declara- 
tion national emergency caught an unprepared public by surprise and con- 
tributed additional unsettling elements to growing atmosphere of 
uneasiness . . . 

100 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

This growing public disquietude accompanied by increasing dissatisfaction 
with Diem's methods of administration on part senior GVN officials. There 
is considerable cabinet level criticism and growing though still inchoate 
determination force organizational reforms on President. Similar attitude 
seems be developing in ARVN upper levels. Though trend of thinking these 
groups taking parallel courses, there nothing indicate at this moment that 
collaboration between them taking place. Beginnings of this would, of 
course, be serious indicator something brewing. 

At same time CAS also has from Vietnamese government sources reports 
(C-3) of movement of certain platoon to company-size VC units (total- 
ling perhaps 200-500 men toward Saigon to profit from any disturbances 
or confusion which may occur. Knowledge these reports within GVN ap- 
parently tending deter disaffected officials from developing radical pace 
at this moment. 

Situation here thus one of insecurity, uneasiness and emergent instability. 
A genuine and important military victory over VC would do more than 
anything else to redress balance and allay for moment high-level mutter- 
ings of need for change. On other hand, further deterioration of situation 
over next few weeks or months or new VC success similar Phuoc Hhanh 
incident might well bring situation to head. 

From MAAG Chief McGarr, Washington received an account of Taylor's 
meeting with "Big Minh," then Chief of Staff, later Head of State for a while 
after Diem was overthrown. It is interesting because it was one of the very few 
reports from Saigon in the available record suggesting that the Diem regime 
might be in need of more than administrative reforms. Minh complains that the 
Vietnamese army was "losing the support of the people" as indicated by 
a "marked decrease in the amount of information given by the population." He 
warned, further, that "GVN should discontinue favoring certain religions . . ." 
But McGarr stressed the administrative problems, particularly the need for an 
"overall plan." His reaction explicitly concerns what he saw as the "military" 
aspects of Minh's complaints. But Ambassador Nolting's cables and the main 
paper of the Report show a very similar tendency to take note of political prob- 
lems, but put almost all the emphasis on the need for better military tactics and 
more efficient administrative arrangements. 

. . . Big Minh was pessimistic and clearly and frankly outlined his per- 
sonal feeling that the military was not being properly supported. He said 
not only Viet Cong grown alarmingly, but that Vietnamese armed forces 
were losing support of the people. As example, he pointed out marked 
decrease in amount of information given by population. Minh said GVN 
should discontinue favoring certain religions, and correct present system 
of selecting province chiefs. At this point Minh was extremely caustic in 
commenting on lack of ability, military and administrative, of certain 
province chiefs. Minh was bitter about province chief's role in military 
chain of command saying that although Gen. McGarr had fought for and 
won on the single . . . command which had worked for few months, old 
habits were now returning. Also, on urging from Gen. McGarr he had 
gone on offensive, but province chiefs had not cooperated to extent neces- 
sary. He discussed his inability to get cooperation from GVN agencies on 
developing overall plans for conduct of counterinsurgency. Minh also 
discussed need to bring sects back into fold as these are anti-communist. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 101 

Although above not new Minh seemed particularly discouraged . . . 
When analyzed, most of Minh's comments in military field are occasioned 
by lack of overall coordination and cooperation. This re-emphasizes ab- 
solute necessity for overall plan which would clearly delineate respon- 
sibility and create a team effort . . . 

Nolting concerned himself, of course, with the civil as well as military arrange- 
ments, but with much the same stress on organizational and administrative 
formalities. A striking example was when Nolting reported that Diem was will- 
ing to consider (in response to American urging of top level administrative re- 
forms) creating a National Executive Council patterned after the U.S. National 
Security Council. Nolting was favorably impressed. His cable notes no concern 
that under Diem's proposal, Diem's brother Nhu would be chairman of the 
NEC, although a year earlier (and of course even more urgently a year or so 
later) getting Nhu, and his wife, out of the picture entirely had been seen as 
the best real hope of saving the Diem regime. 

The report Nolting sent on Taylor's final meeting with Diem also contains 
some interesting material. It leaves the impression that Diem was still not really 
anxious to get American troops deeply involved in his country, despite his 
favorable reaction at the meeting of the 24th, which, in turn, was a reversal of 
his reaction at the meeting on the 19th. Because of this, the impression left by 
the whole record is that Taylor came to the conclusion that some sort of ground 
troop commitment was needed mainly because of what he heard from Diem's 
colleagues and his military people, rather than from Diem himself. 

According to Nolting's cabled account, Diem, although raising half a dozen 
issues relating to increased American military aid, did not mention the flood 
task force, or anything else that might imply a special interest in getting some 
sort of ground troops commitment. As seemed the case earlier, it was the 
Americans who pressed the idea of getting American military people involved 
in combat. In the only exchange Nolting reported touching on this issue, he 

1. Diem stressed importance of reinforcement of aviation: particularly 
helicopters. Taylor and I [Nolting] used this opportunity to make clear to 
Diem that we envisaged helicopters piloted by Americans and constituting 
American units under American commanders which would cooperate with 
Vietnamese military commands. 

(At a meeting with McGarr November 9, Diem again raised the helicopter 
question, this time taking the initiative in saying he needed American pilots, but 
he did not mention the flood task force, or anything else that might imply a re- 
quest for ground troops.) 

On the question of better performance by Diem's regime, we have this ex- 
change, which does not seem likely to have prepared Diem for the fairly sub- 
stantial quid pro quo which turned out to be part of the package proposed by 

... 3. Taylor told Diem it would be useful if he and I could develop 
specifics with respect to political-psychological point in paper which Taylor 
presented to Diem October 24. Taylor pointed out this would be very 
useful to him in Washington because he will be faced with question that, 
if program he proposes is adopted, what will be chances of early success. 

102 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

In response Thuan's question asking for exact meaning of this point in 
Taylor's paper, latter said there has been loss of confidence among both 
Vietnamese and American people about situation in Vietnam and we 
need to determine together what measures can be taken to restore con- 
fidence. Rostow commented that secret of turning point is offensive action. 
Diem stated complete psychological mobilization required so that every- 
thing can be done to raise potential GVN forces and damage enemy's 
potential. He referred to GVN efforts in past to collaborate more closely 
with US in military planning and said these efforts had run up against wall 
of secrecy surrounding US and SEATO military plans . . . 

Finally, there was this exchange, which does not appear to provide much 
support for the high hopes expressed in the Taylor Report that Diem was 
anxious for U.S. guidance and "in principle" ready to grant a role for Americans 
in his administration and army. 

... 4. Taylor referred to Diem's comments in earlier talk about 
shortage of capable personnel and suggested US might assist by lending 
personnel. Diem replied that US could help in this respect in training field. 
Thuan then brought up dilemma facing GVN re instructors at Thui Due 
Reserve Officers' School . . . 



Taylor's formal report, as noted, was dated November 3, a day after the 
Mission came back to Washington. (A good deal of it had been written during 
the stopover at Baguio, in the Philippines, when Taylor's personal cables to the 
President had also been written and sent.) The submission of Taylor's Report 
was followed by prominent news stories the next morning flatly stating (but 
without attribution to a source) that the President "remains strongly opposed 
to the dispatch of American combat troops to South Vietnam" and strongly 
implying that General Taylor had not recommended such a commitment. Ap- 
parently, only a few people, aside from Taylor, Rostow and a handful of very 
senior officials, realized that this was not exactly accurate — for the summary 
paper of the Report had not been very explicit on just what was meant by "a 
hard commitment to the ground." Thus only those who knew about the "Eyes 
Only" c_abks_would know just what Taylor was recommending. 

Diem himself had given one of his rare on-the-record interviews to the New 
York Times correspondent in Saigon while Taylor was on his way home, and 
he too gave the impression that the further American aid he expected would 
not include ground troops. 

Consequently, the general outline of the American aid that would be sent 
following the Taylor Mission was common knowledge for over a week before 
any formal decision was made. The decisions, when they were announced 
stirred very little fuss, and (considering the retrospective importance) not even 
much interest. The Taylor Mission had received much less attention in the press 
than several other crises at the UN, in the Congo, on nuclear testing, and most 
of all in Berlin, where there had just been a symbolic confrontation of Soviet 
and American tanks. The Administration was so concerned about public reac- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 103 

tion to Soviet aggressiveness and apparent American inability to deal with it 
that a campaign was begun (as usual in matters of this sort, reported in the 
Times without specific attribution) to "counter-attack against what unnamed 
'high officials' called a 'rising mood of national frustration.' " The Administra- 
tion's message, the Times reported, was that a "mature foreign policy" rather 
than "belligerence of defeatism" was what was needed. What is interesting about 
such a message is what the necessity to send it reveals about the mood of the 

In this sort of context, there was no real debate about whether the U.S. 
ought to do anything reasonable it could to prevent Vietnam from going the 
way of Laos. There is no hint of a suggestion otherwise in the classified record, 
and there was no real public debate on this point. What was seen as an issue was 
whether the limits of reasonable U.S. aid extended to the point of sending 
American troops to fight the Viet Cong. But even this was subdued. There had 
been, as noted before, the leaked stories playing down the prospects that com- 
bat troops would be sent, and then, immediately on Taylor's return, the un- 
attributed but obviously authoritative stories that Kennedy was opposed to send- 
ing troops and Taylor was not recommending them. 

In a most important sense, this situation distorts the story told in this ac- 
count. For this account inevitably devotes a great deal of space to the decision 
that was not made — that of sending ground troops — and very little space to the 
important decisions that were made. There is simply nothing much to say about 
these latter decisions: except that they were apparently taken for granted at the 
time. Even today, with all the hindsight available, it is very hard to imagine 
Kennedy or any other President responding to the situation faced in 1961 by 
doing significantly less about Vietnam than he did. The only choices seen then, 
as indeed even today the only choices seem to have been, whether to do m ore. 
And it is on how that question was resolved, inevitably, that any account of the 
period will be focused. 

The Administration faced (contrary to the impression given to the public 
both before and after the decisions) two major issues when Taylor returned. 

1. What conditions, if any, would be attached to new American aid? The Tay- 
lor Report implicitly recommended nojie. But the leaked stories in the press 
following Taylor's return showed that some in the Administration inclined to 
a much harder line on Diem than the summary paper of the report. For ex- 
ample, a Times dispatch of November 5, from its Pentagon correspondent, 
reported that Diem would be expected to "undertake major economic, social, 
and military reforms to provide a basis for increased U.S. support." 

2. Would the limited commitment of ground forces recommended by Taylor 
be undertaken? The news stories suggested they would, although this would be 
apparent only to those who had seen Taylor's "Eyes Only" cables. The story 
appearing the day after the report was submitted, despite the flat statements 
against the use of combat troops, also stated that Taylor had recommended "the 
dispatch of more specialists in anti-guerrilla warfare to train Vietnamese troops, 
communications and transportation specialists, and army engineers to help the 
Vietnamese government combat its flood problems." The November 5 story 
was more explicit. It is noted that officials seemed to rule out the use of U.S. 
combat forces, "the move considered here a few weeks ago." But "at the same 
time it appears that Army engineers, perhaps in unusually large numbers, may 
be sent to help on flood control work and other civil projects and to fight if 
necessary" This last phrase was explicitly (and correctly) linked to the fact that 

104 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

the area in which the floods had taken place (the Delta) was precisely the area 
of greatest Viet Cong strength. 

A final question of great importance did not have to be resolved during this 
review: for although the Taylor Report had stressed the idea of eventually 
bombing the north, no immediate decision or commitment on this was recom- 

On the first of these issues (the quid pro quo for U.S. aid) our record tells us 
that demands were made on Diem, as we will see when we come to the actual 
decision. The newspaper stories strongly suggest that the decision to ask for a 
quid pro quo was made, at the latest, immediately following the return of the 
Taylor Mission. But the record does not show anything about the reasoning 
behind this effort to pressure Diem to agree to reforms as a condition for in- 
creased U.S. aid, nor of what the point of it was. It certainly conflicted with the 
main drive of the Taylor Mission Report. The report not only suggested no such 
thing, but put a great deal of stress on a cordial, intimate relationship with the 
Diem regime. Pressure for reform (especially when publicly made, as they es- 
sentially were in the leaked stories) was hardly likely to promote cordiality. 
Durbrow's experience earlier in the year had shown that pressure would have 
the opposite result. 

Consequently, the President's handling of this issue had the effect of under- 
mining from the start what appeared to have been a major premise of the 
strategy recommended to the President: that Diem was "in principle" prepared 
for what plainly amounted to a "limited partnership," with the U.S. in running 
his country and his Army. 

The advantages, from the American view, of the President's decision to place 
demands on Diem were presumably that it might (contrary to realistic expecta- 
tions) actually push Diem in the right direction; and that if this did not work, 
it would somewhat limit the American commitment to Diem. The limit would 
come by making clear that the U.S. saw a good deal of the problem as Diem's 
own responsibility, and not just a simple matter of external aggression. The 
balance of this judgment would turn substantially on whether whoever was mak- 
ing the decision judged that the "limited partnership" idea was really much 
more realistic than the trying to pressure Diem, and on whether he wanted to 
limit the U.S. commitment, rather than make it unambiguous. Further, the 
cables from Saigon had clearly shown that many South Vietnamese were hoping 
the Americans would put pressure on Diem, so that although such tactics would 
prejudice relations with Diem, they would not necessarily harm relations with 
others of influence in the country, in particular his generals. 

Finally, although Kennedy's decisions here were contrary to the implications 
of the summary paper in the Taylor Report, they were not particularly incon- 
sistent with the appendices by the State representatives. For these, as noted, 
took a far less rosy view of Diem's prospects than appeared in the summary. 

On the second issue — the U.S. combat military task force — the available 
record tells us only the positions of Taylor and of the Defense Department. We 
are not, sure what the position of State was — although Sorenson claims that all 
the President's senior advisors had recommended going ahead with send- 
ing some ground troops. 8»'^* r " 

Even Taylor's position is slightly ambiguous. It is conceivable that he argued 
for the Task Force mainly because he thought that the numbers of U.S. per- 
sonnel that might be sent as advisors, pilots, and other specialists would not add 
up to a large enough increment to have much of a psychological impact on 
South Vietnamese morale. But his choice of language indicates that a mere 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 105 

question of numbers was not the real issue. Rather Taylor's argument seems to 
have been that specifically ground forces (not necessarily all or even mainly in- 
fantrymen, but ground soldiers who would be out in the countryside where 
they could be shot at and shoot back) were what was needed. Combat engineers 
to work in the VC-infested flood area in the Delta would meet that need. Heli- 
copter pilots and mechanics and advisors, who might accompany Vietnamese 
operations, but could not undertake ground operations on their own apparently 
would not. There is only one easily imagined reason for seeing this as a crucial 
distinction. And that would be if a critical object of the stepped up American 
program was to be exactly what Taylor said it should be in his final cable from 
Saigon: ". . . assuring Diem of our readiness to join him in a military show- 
down with the Viet Cong . . ." 

Thus the flood task force was essentially different from the balance of the 
military program. It did not fill an urgent need for military specialists or ex- 
pertise not adequately available within Vietnam; it was an implicit commitment 
to deny the Viet Cong a victory even if major American ground forces should be 

Taylor clearly did not see the need for large U.S. ground involvement as at 1 
alLprobable. ("The risks of backing into a major Asian war because SVN are 
present but are not impressive," in large part because "NVN is extremely vul- . 
nerable to conventional bombing.") At another point, Taylor warns the Presi- ; 
dent, "If the first contingent is not enough, ... it will be difficult to resist the 
pressure to reinforce. If the ultimate result sought is the closing of the frontiers 
and the cleanup of the insurgents within SVN, there is no limit to our possible 
commitment ( unles s we attack the source in Hanoi.)" 

We have a good record of the DOD staff work, which preceded the President's 
decision on this issue, but only a bit from State and none from the White House. 
Rusk, in a cable from Japan on November 1, contributed this note of caution 
(which also bears on the previous discussion of demands on Diem for a quid 
pro quo for increased American aid) : 

Since General Taylor may give first full report prior my return, be- 
lieve special attention should be given to critical question whether Diem is 
prepared take necessary measures to give us something worth supporting. 
If Diem unwilling trust military commanders to get job done and take 
steps to consolidate non-communist elements into serious national effort, 
difficult to see how handful American troops can have decisive influence. 
While attaching greatest possible importance to security in SEA, I would 
be reluctant to see U.S. make major additional commitment American 
prestige to a losing horse. 

Suggest Department carefully review all Southeast Asia measures we 
expect from Diem if our assistance forces us to assume de facto direction 
South Vietnamese affairs. 

But the view of the U.S. Mission in Saigon contained no such doubts, nor did 
most Vietnamese, according to this cable Nolting sent while Taylor was enroute 

Our conversations over past ten days with Vietnamese in various walks 
of life show virtually unanimous desire for introduction U.S. forces into 
Viet-Nam. This based on unsolicited remarks from cabinet ministers, Na- 
tional Assembly Deputies, University professors, students, shop-keepers, 

106 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

and oppositionists. Dr. Tran Dinh De, level-headed Minister of Health, 
told Embassy officer Oct. 29 that while GVN could continue resist com- 
munists for while longer if US troops not introduced, it could not win alone 
against commies. National Assembly members, according to Lai Tu, leader 
Personalist Community, unanimously in favor entry US forces. Diem told 
us while General Taylor was here that he had consulted National Assembly 
Committee on this question and had received favorable response. Even an 
oppositionist like Ex-Foreign Minister Tran Van Do has told us US forces 
are needed and is apparently so strongly convinced of this that he did not 
suggest any conditions precedent about political changes by Diem. Am- 
Consul Hue reports that opinion among intellectuals and government of- 
ficials in that city is also almost unanimously in favor of introduction of 
American combat troops. MAAG believes on basis private conversations 
and general attitude Vietnamese military personnel toward us that Viet- 
namese armed forces would likewise welcome introduction US forces. 

General Vietnamese desire for introduction US forces arises from serious 
morale decline among populace during recent weeks because of deteriora- 
tion in security and horrible death through torture and mutilation to which 
Col Nam subjected. Expanded VC infiltration has brought fully home to 
Vietnamese the fact that US has not intervened militarily in Laos to come 
to rescue of anti-communists. Now that they see Viet-Nam approaching 
its own crucial period, paramount question in their minds is whether it 
will back down when chips are down. Vietnamese thus want US forces 
introduced in order to demonstrate US determination to stick it out with 
them against Communists. They do not want to be victims of political set- 
tlement with communists. This is especially true of those publicly identified 
as anti-communist like Dean Vu Quoc Thue who collaborated with Dr. 
Eugene Staley on Joint Experts Report. 

Most Vietnamese whose thoughts on this subject have been developed 
are not thinking in terms of US troops to fight guerrillas but rather of a 
reassuring presence of US forces in Viet-Nam. These persons undoubtedly 
feel, however, that if war in Viet-Nam continues to move toward overt 
conventional aggression as opposed to its guerrilla character, combat role 
for US troops could eventually arise. 

The special commitment involved in committing even a small force of ground 
troops was generally recognized. We have notes on an ISA staff paper, for ex- 
ample, which ranked the various types of increased U.S. military aid in ascend- 
ing order of commitment, and of course, placed the flood task force at the top. 
According to the notes, 

Any combat elements, such as in the task force, would come under at- 
tack and would need to defend themselves, committing U.S. prestige 
deeply. U.S. troops would then be fighting in South Vietnam and could 
not withdraw under fire. Thus, the introduction of U.S. troops in South 
Vietnam would be a decisive act and must be sent to achieve a completely 
decisive mission. This mission would probably require, over time, increased 
numbers of U.S. troops; DRV intervention would probably increase until 
a large number of U.S. troops were required, three or more divisions. 

This assessment differed from that in General Taylor's cables only in not 
stressing the hope that a U.S. willingness to bomb the north would deter North 
Vietnamese escalation of its own commitment. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 107 

A special NIE prepared at this time reached essentially the same conclusions. 

This SNIE, incidentally, is the only staff paper found in the available record 
which treats communist reactions primarily in terms of the separate national 
interests of Hanoi, Moscow, and Peiping, rather than primarily in terms of an 
overall communist strategy for which Hanoi, is acting as an agent. In particular, 
the Gilpatric Task Force Report, it will be recalled, began with references to a 
communist 'master plan' for taking over Southeast Asia. The Taylor Mission 
Report, similarly, began with a section on "Communist Strategy in Southeast 
Asia" and opening: 

At the present time, the Communists are pursuing a clear and systematic 
strategy in Southeast Asia. It is a strategy of extending Communist power 
and influence in ways which bypass U.S. nuclear strength, U.S. conven- 
tional naval, air, and ground forces, and the conventional strength of 
indigenous forces in the area. Their strategy is rooted in the fact that inter- 
national law and practice does not yet recognize the mounting of guerrilla 
war across borders as aggression justifying counterattack at the source. 

The November 5 SNIE presumably indicates the principal courses of action 
that were under formal review at the time: 

The courses of action here considered were given to the intelligence 
community for the purposes of this estimate and were not intended to 
represent the full range of possible courses of action. The given courses of 
action are : 

A. The introduction of a US airlift into and within South Vietnam, in- 
creased logistics support, and an increase in MAAG strength to provide US 
advisers down to battalion level; 

B. The introduction into South Vietnam of a US force of about 8,000- 
10,000 troops, mostly engineers with some combat support, in response to 
an appeal from President Diem for assistance in flood relief; 

C. The introduction into the area of a US combat force of 25,000 to 
40,000 to engage with South Vietnamese forces in ground, air, and naval 
operations against the Viet Cong; and 

D. An announcement by the US of its determination to hold South Viet- 
nam and a warning, either private or public, that North Vietnamese sup- 
port of the Viet Cong must cease or the US would launch air attacks 
against North Vietnam. This action would be taken in conjunction with \ 
Course A, B, or C. 

These proposed courses of action correspond to those outlined for considera- 
tion by the Taylor Mission, with the exception that the flood task force proposed 
by Taylor has been substituted for the former "intermediate" solution of station- 
ing a token U.S. force at DaNang, and that an opinion is asked on the prospects 
of threats to bomb the north, again reflecting the Taylor Mission Report. 

The gist of the SNIE was that North Vietnamese would respond to an in- 
creased U.S. commitment with an offsetting increase in infiltrated support for 
the Viet Cong. Thus, the main difference in the estimated communist reaction 
to Courses A, B, and C was that each would be stronger than its predecessor. 
On the prospects for bombing the north, the SNIE implies that threats to bomb 
would not cause Hanoi to. stop its support for the Viet Cong, and that actual 

108 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

attacks on the North would bring a strong response from Moscow and Peiping, 
iwho would "regard the defense of North Vietnam against such an attack as im- 


On November 8, McNamara sent the following memorandum on behalf of 
himself, Gilpatric, and the JCS: 


The basic issue framed by the Taylor Report is whether the U.S. shall: 

a. Commit itself to the clear objective of preventing the fall of South 
Vietnam to Communism, and 

b. Support this commitment by necessary immediate military actions 
and preparations for possible later actions. 

The Joint Chiefs, Mr. Gilpatric, and I have reached the following con- 

1. The fall of South Vietnam to Communism would lead to the fairly 
rapid extension of Communist control, or complete accommodation to 
Communism, in the rest of mainland Southeast Asia and in Indonesia. The 
strategic implications worldwide, particularly in the Orient, would be ex- 
tremely serious. 

2. The chanc^_^e^^gaj_nst L _^robably_ sharply against, preventing that 
fall by any measures short of the introduction of U.S. lorces on a substan- 
tial scale. We accept General Taylor's judgment that the various measures 
proposed by him short of this are useful but will not in themselves do the 
job of restoring confidence and setting Diem on the way to winning his 

3. The introduction of a U.S. force of the magnitude of an initial 8,000 
men in a flood relief context will be of great help to Diem. However, it will 
not convince the other side (whether the shots are called from Moscow, 
Peiping, or Hanoi) that we mean business. Moreover, jt probably will 
not tip the scales decisively. We would be almost certain to get increasin gly 
mired down in an inconclusive struggle. 

4. The other side can be convinced we mean business only if we ac- 
company the initial force introduction by a clear commitment to the full 
objective stated above, accompanied by a warning through some channel 
to Hanoi that continued support of the Viet Cong will lead to punitive re- 
taliation against North Vietnam. 

5. If we act in this way, the ultimate possible extent of our military com- 
mitment must be faced. The struggle may be prolonged and Hanoi andl 
Peiping may intervene overtly. In view of the logistic difficulties faced by 
the other side, I believe we can assume that the maximum U.S. forces re- 
quired on the ground in Southeast Asia will not exceed 6 divisions, or about 

, 205,000 men (CINCPAC Plan 32-59, Phase IV). Our military posture is, 
or with the addition of more National Guard or regular Army divisions, 
can be made, adequate to furnish these forces without serious interference 
with our present Berlin plans. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 109 

6. To accept the stated objective is of course a most serious decision. 
Military force is not the only element of what must be a most carefully co- 
ordinated set of actions. Success will depend on factors many of which are 
not within our control — notably the conduct of Diem himself and other 
leaders in the area. Laos will remain a major problem. The domestic 
political implications of accepting the objective are also grave, although it 
is our feeling that the country will respond better to a firm initial position 
than to courses of action that lead us in only gradually, and that in 
the meantime are sure to involve casualties. The over-all effect on Mos- 
cow and Peiping will need careful weighing and may well be mixed; how- 
ever, permitting South Vietnam to fall can only strengthen and encourage 
them greatly. 

7. In sum: 

a. We do not believe major units of U.S. forces should be introduced 
in South Vietnam unless we are willing to make an affirmative decision 
on the issue stated at the start of this memorandum. 

b. We are inclined to recommend that we do commit the U.S. to the 
clear objective of preventing the fall of South Vietnam to Communism 
and that we support this commitment by the necessary military actions. 

c. If such a commitment is agreed upon, we support the recommenda- 
tions of General Taylor as the first steps toward its fulfillment. 

Sgd: Robert S. McNamara 

A number of things are striking about this memorandum, including of course 
the judgment that the "maximum" U.S. ground forces required, even in the case 
of overt intervention by not only North Vietnam, but China as well, would "not 
exceed" 205,000 men. This estimate of the requirement to deal with a large scale 
overt invasion is consistent with the Chiefs earlier estimate that the addition of 
40,000 U.S. troops to the South Vietnamese forces would be sufficient to "clean 
up" the Viet Cong. 

But the strongest message to the President in the memorandum (growing out 
of points 3, 4, and 7c) was surely that if he agreed to sending the military task 
force, he should be prepared for follow-up. recommendations for re-enforce- 
ments and to threaten Hanoi with bombing. Unless the SNIE was wholly wrong, 
threats to bomb Hanoi would not turn off the war, and Hanoi would increase 
its infiltration in response to U.S. commitments of troops. Even should Hanoi 
not react with counter-escalation, the President knew that the Chiefs^ at least, 
were already^pn_ record as desiring a prompt build-up to 40,000 ground troops. 
In shorF, the President was being told that the issue was not whether to send an 
8,000-man task force, but whether or not to embark on a course that, without 
sojrne extraordinary good luck, would lead to combat involvement in Southeast 
Asia on a very substantial scale. On the other hand, he was being warned that 
anything less than sending the task force was very likely to fail to prevent the 
fair of Vietnam, since "the odds are against, probably sharply against, prevent- 
ing that fall by any means short of the introduction of U.S. forces on a sub- 
stantial scale" (of which the task force would be the first increment). 

Although the Chief's position here is clear, because their views are on record 
in other memoranda, McNamara's own position remains a little ambiguous. For 
the paper does not flatly recommend going ahead; it only states he and his col- 

110 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

leagues are "inclined" to recommend going ahead. Three days later McNamara 
f joined Rusk in a quite different recommendation, and one obviously more to the 
1 President's liking (and, in the nature of such things, quite possibly drawn up to 
the President's specifications). 

As with the May revision of the Gilpatric Report, this paper combines an 
/escalation of the rhetoric with a toning down of the actions the President is 
I asked to take. Since the NSAM formalizing the President's decisions was taken 
essentially verbatim from this paper, the complete text is reprinted here. (The 
NSAM consisted of the Recommendations section of this memorandum, except 
that Point 1 of the recommendations was deleted.) 

Of particular importance in this second memorandum to the President was 
Section 4, with its explicit sorting of U.S. military aid into Category A, support 
forces, which were to be sent promptly; and Category B, "larger organized units 
with actual or potential direct military missions" on which no immediate decision 
was recommended. There is no explicit reference in the paper to the flood relief 
task force; it simply does not appear in the list of recommended actions, pre- 
sumably on the grounds that it goes in Category B. Category B forces, the paper 
notes, "involve a certain dilemma: if there is a strong South Vietnamese effort, 
they may not be needed; if there is not such an effort, United States forces 
could not accomplish their mission in the midst of an apathetic or hostile popula- 

If McNamara's earlier memorandum is read carefully, the same sort of warn- 
ing is found, although it sounds much more perfunctory. But that such warn- 
ings were included shows a striking contrast with the last go-around in May. 
Then, the original Defense version of the Gilpatric Task Force Report contained 
no hint of such a qualification, and there was only a quite vague warning in the 
State revisions. Part of the reason, undoubtedly, was the 6 month's additional 
experience in dealing with Diem. A larger part, though, almost certainly flowed 
from the fact that the insurgency had by now shown enough strength so that 
there was now in everyone's minds the possibility that the U.S. might someday 
face the choice of giving up on Vietnam or taking over a major part of the 

t These warnings (that even a major U.S. commitment to the ground war 
I would not assure success) were obviously in some conflict with the recom- 
j mendations both papers made for a clear-cut U.S. commitment to save South 
j Vietnam. The contrast is all the sharper in the joint Rusk/McNamara memo- 
; randum, where the warning is so forcefully given. 

Here is the Rusk/McNamara memorandum. 

November 11, 1961 


Subject: South Viet-Nam 

1 . United States National Interests in South Viet-Nam. 

The deteriorating situation in South Viet-Nam requires attention to the 
nature and scope of United States national interests in that country. The 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 111 

loss of South Viet-Nam to Communism would involve the transfer of a 
nation of 20 million people from the free world to the Communist bloc. 
The loss of South Viet-Nam would make pointless any further discussion 
about the importance of Southeast Asia to the free world; we would have 
to face the near certainty that the remainder of Southeast Asia and 
Indonesia would move to a complete accommodation with Communism, 
if not formal incorporation within the Communist bloc. The United States, 
as a member of SEATO, has commitments with respect to South Viet-Nam 
under the Protocol to the SEATO Treaty. Additionally, in a formal state- 
ment at the conclusion session of the 1954 Geneva Conference, the United 
States representative stated that the United States "would view any re- 
newal of the aggression . . . with grave concern and seriously threatening 
international peace and security." 

The loss of South Viet-Nam to Communism would not only destroy 
SEATO but would undermine the credibility of American commitments 

elsewhere. Further, loss of South Viet-Nam would stimulate bitter 

domestic controversies in the United States and would be seized upon by 
extreme elements to divide the country and harass the Administration. 

2. The Problem of Saving South Viet-Nam. 

It seems, on the face of it, absurd to think that a nation of 20 million 
people can be subverted by 15-20 thousand active guerrillas if the Govern- 
ment and people of that country do not wish to be subverted. South Viet-Nam 
is not, however, a highly organized society with an effective governing 
apparatus and a population accustomed to carrying civic responsibility. 
Public apathy is encouraged by the inability of most citizens to act directly 
as well as by the tactics of terror employed by the guerrillas throughout 
the countryside. Inept administration and the absence of a strong non- 
Communist political coalition have made it difficult to bring available 
resources to bear upon the guerrilla problem and to make the most effective 
use of available external aid. Under the best of conditions the threat posed 
by the presence of 15-20 thousand guerrillas, well disciplined under well- 
trained cadres, would be difficult to meet. 

3. The United States' Objective in South Viet-Nam. 

The United States should commit itself to the clear objective of prevent- 
ing the fall of South Viet-Nam to Communism. The basic means for ac- 
complishing this objective must be to put the Government of South Viet- 
Nam into a position to win its own war against the guerrillas. We must 
insist that that Government itself take the measures necessary for that pur- 
pose in exchange for large-scale United States assistance in the military, 
economic and political fields. At the same time we must recognize that it 
will probably not be possible for the GVN to win this war as long as the 
flow of men and supplies from North Viet-Nam continues unchecked and 
the guerrillas enjoy a safe sanctuary in neighboring territory. 

We should be prepared to introduce United States combat forces if that 
should become necessary^ for success. Dependent upon the circumstances, 
it may also be necessary for United States forces to strike at the source of 
the aggression in North Viet-Nam. 

12 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/VoL II 

4. The Use of United States Forces in South Viet-Nam. 

The commitment of United States forces to South Viet-Nam involves 
two different categories: (A) Units of modest size required for the direct 
support of South Viet-Namese military effort, such as communications, 
helicopter and other forms of airlift, reconnaissance aircraft, naval 
patrols, intelligence units, etc., and (B) larger organized units with actual 
or potential direct military missions. Category (A) should be introduced 
as speedily as possible. Category (B) units pose a more serious problem 
in that they are much more significant from the point of view of domes- 
tic and international political factors and greatly increase the probabilities 
f of Communist bloc escalation. Further, the employment of United States 
comat forces (in the absence of Communist bloc escalation) involves a 
certain dilemma: if there is a strong South-Vietnamese effort, they may 
not be needed; if there is not such an effort, United States forces could not 
accomplish their mission in the midst of an apathetic or hostile population. 
Under present circumstances, therefore, the question of injecting United 
States and SEATO combat forces should in large part be considered as a 
contribution to the morale of the South Viet-Namese in their own effort 
to do the principal job themselves. 

5. Probable Extent of the Commitment of United States Forces. 

If we commit Category (B) forces to South Viet-Nam the ultimate 
possible extent of our military commitment in Southeast Asia must be 
faced. The struggle may be prolonged, and Hanoi and Peiping may overtly 
intervene. It is the view of the Secretary of Defense and the loint Chiefs of 
Staff that, in the light of the logistic difficulties faced by the other side, 
we can assume that the maximum United States forces required on the 
ground in Southeast Asia would not exceed six divisions, or about 205,000 
men (CINCPAC Plan 32/59 PHASE IV). This would be in addition to 
local forces and such SEATO forces as may be engaged. It is also the view 
of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff that our military 
posture is, or, with the addition of more National Guard or regular Army 
divisions, can be made, adequate to furnish these forces and support them 
in action without serious interference with our present Berlin plans. 

6. Relation to Laos. 

It must be understood that the introduction of American combat forces 
into Viet-Nam prior to a Laotian settlement would run a considerable risk 
of stimulating a Communist breach of the cease fire and a resumption of 
\ hostilities in Laos. This could present us with a choice between the use of 
combat forces in Laos or an abandonment of that country to full Com- 
munist control. At the present time, there is at least a chance that a settle- 
ment can be reached in Laos on the basis of a weak and unsatisfactory 
Souvanna Phouma Government. The prospective agreement on Laos in- 
cludes a provision that Laos will not be used as a transit area or as a base 
for interfering in the affairs of other countries such as South Viet-Nam. 
After a Laotian settlement, the introduction of United States forces into 
Viet-Nam could serve to stabilize the position both in Viet-Nam and in 
Laos by registering our determination to see to it that the Laotian settle- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1 961 1 1 3 

ment was as far as the United States would be willing to see Communist 
influence in Southeast Asia develop. 

7. The Need for Multilateral Action. 

From the political point of view, both domestic and international, it 
would seem important to involve forces from other nations alongside of 
United States Category (B) forces in Viet-Nam. It should be difficult to 
explain to our own people why no effort had been made to invoke SEATO 
or why the United States undertook to carry this burden unilaterally. Our 
position would be greatly strengthened if the introduction of forces could 
be taken as a SEATO action, accompanied by units of other SEATO 
countries, with a full SEATO report to the United Nations of the purposes 
of the action itself. 

Apart from the armed forces, there would be political advantage in 
enlisting the interest of other nations, including neutrals, in the security 
and well-being of South Viet-Nam. This might be done by seeking such 
assistance as Malayan police officials (recently offered Diem by the Tunku) 
and by technical assistance personnel in other fields, either bilaterally or 
through international organizations. 

8. Initial Diplomatic Action by the United States. 

If the recommendations, below, are approved, the United States should 
consult intensively with other SEATO governments to obtain their full 
support of the course of action contemplated. At the appropriate stage, a 
direct approach should be made by the United States to Moscow, through 
normal or special channels, pointing out that we cannot accept the 
movement of cadres, arms and other supplies into South Viet-Nam in sup- 
port of the guerrillas. We should also discuss the problem with neutral 
governments in the general area and get them to face up to their own 
interests in the security of South Viet-Nam; these governments will be 
concerned about (a) the introduction of United States combat forces 
and (b) the withdrawal of United States support from Southeast Asia; 
their concern, therefore, might be usefully expressed either to Communist 
bloc countries or in political support for what may prove necessary in South 
Viet-Nam itself. 


In the light of the foregoing, the Secretary of State and the Secretary 
of Defense recommend that: 

1. We now take the decision to commit ourselves to the objective of 
preventing the fall of South Viet-Nam to Communism and that, in doing 
so, we recognize that the introduction of United States and other SEATO 
forces may be necessary to achieve this objective. (However, if it is nec- 
essary to commit outside forces to achieve the foregoing objective our 
decision to introduce United States forces should nqt^ be contingent upon 
unanimous SEATO agreement thereto.) 

2. The Department of Defense be prepared with plans for the use of 

114 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

United States forces in South Viet-Nam under one or more of the fol- 
lowing purposes: 

(a) Use of a significant number of United States forces to signify 
United States determination to defend South Viet-Nam and to boost 
South Viet-Nam morale. 

(b) Use of substantial United States forces to assist in suppressing 
Viet Cong insurgency short of engaging in detailed counter-guerrilla 
operations but including r elevant operations in North Viet-Nam. 

(c) Use of United States forces to deal with the situation if there is 
organized Communist military intervention. 

3. We immediately undertake the following actions in support of the 

(a) Provide increased air lift to the GVN forces, including heli- 
copters, light aviation, and transport aircraft, manned to the extent nec- 
essary by United States uniformed personnel and under United States 
operational control. 

(b) Provide such additional equipment and United States uniformed 
personnel as may be necessary for air reconnaissance, photography, 
instruction in and execution of air-ground support techniques, and for 
special intelligence. 

(c) Provide the GVN with small craft, including such United States 
uniformed advisers and operating personnel as may be necessary for 
quick and effective operations in effecting surveillance and control 
over coastal waters and inland waterways. 

(d) Provide expedited training and equipping of the civil guard and 
the self-defense corps with the objective of relieving the regular Army 
of static missions and freeing it for mobile offensive operations. 

(e) Provide such personnel and equipment as may be necessary to 
improve the military-political intelligence system beginning at the pro- 
vincial level and extending upward through the Government and the 
armed forces to the Central Intelligence Organization. 

(f) Provide such new terms of reference, reorganization and addi- 
tional personnel for United States military forces as are required for 
increased United States participation in the direction and control of 
GVN military operations and to carry out the other increased responsi- 
bilities which accrue to MAAG under these recommendations. 

(g) Provide such increased economic aid as may be required to per- 
mit the GVN to pursue a vigorous flood relief and rehabilitation pro- 
gram, to supply material in support of the security effort, and to give 
priority to projects in support of this expanded counter-insurgency pro- 
gram. (This could include increases in military pay, a full suppy of a 
wide range of materials such as food, medical supplies, transportation 
equipment, communications equipment, and any other items where 
material help could assist the GVN in winning the war against the Viet 

(h) Encourage and support (including financial support) a request 
by the GVN to the FAO or any other appropriate international organ- 
ization for multilateral assistance in the relief and rehabilitation of the 
flood area. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 115 

(i) Provide individual administrators and advisers for insertion into 
the Governmental machinery of South Viet-Nam in types and numbers 
to be agreed upon by the two Governments. 

(j) Provide personnel for a joint survey with the GVN of conditions 
in each of the provinces to assess the social, political, intelligence, and 
military factors bearing on the prosecution of the counter-insurgency pro- 
gram in order to reach a common estimate of these factors and a com- 
mon determination of how to deal with them. 

4. Ambassador Nolting be instructed to make an immediate approach 
to President Diem to the effect that the Government of the United States 
is prepared to join the Government of Viet-Nam in a sharply increased 
joint effort to cope with the Viet Cong threat and the ravages of the flood 
as set forth under 3., above, If) on its part, the Government of Viet-Nam 
is prepared to carry out an effective and total mobilization of its own 
resources, both material and human, for the same end. Before setting in 
motion the United States proposals listed above, the United States Gov- 
ernment would appreciate confirmation of their acceptability to the GVN, 
and an expression from the GVN of thejundertakings it is prepared to make 
to insure the success of this joint effort. On the part of the United States, 
it would be expected that these GVN undertakings could include, in ac- 
cordance with the detailed recommendations of [line missing] 

(a) Prompt and appropriate legislative and administrative action to 
put the nation on a wartime footing to mobilize its entire resources. 
(This would include a decentralization and broadening of the Govern- 
ment so as to realize the full potential of all non-Communist elements in 
the country willing to contribute to the common struggle.) 

(b) The establishment of appropriate Governmental wartime agen- 
cies with adequate authority to perform their functions effectively. 

(c) Overhaul of the military establishment and command structure 
so as to create an effective military organization for the prosecution of 
the war. 

5. Very shortly before the arrival in South Viet-Nam of the first incre- 
ments of United States military personnel and equipment proposed under 
3., above, that would exceed the Geneva Accord ceilings, publish the 
"Jorden report" as a United States "white paper," transmitting it as simul- 
taneously as possible to the Governments of all countries with which we 
have diplomatic relations, including the Communist states. 

6. Simultaneous with the publication of the "Jorden report," release an 
exchange of letters between Diem and the President. 

(a) Diem's letter would include reference to the DRV violations of 
Geneva Accords as set forth in the October 24 GVN letter to the ICC 
and other documents; pertinent references to GVN statements with 
respect to its intent to observe the Geneva Accords; reference to its 
need for flood relief and rehabilitation; reference to previous United 
States aid and the compliance hitherto by both countries with the Geneva 
Accords; reference to the USG statement at the time the Geneva Ac- 
cords were signed; the necessity now of exceeding some provisions of 
the Accords in view of the DRV violations thereof; the lack of aggres- 

116 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

siye intent with respect to the DRV: GVN intent to return to strict 
compliance with the Geneva Accords as soon as the DRV violations 
ceased; and request for additional United States assistance in framework 
foregoing policy. The letter should also set forth in appropriate gen- 
eral terms steps Diem has taken and is taking to reform Governmental 

(b) The President's reply would be responsive to Diem's request for 
additional assistance and acknowledge and agree to Diem's statements 
on the intent promptly to return to strict compliance with the Geneva 
Accords as soon as DRV violations have ceased. 

7. Simultaneous with steps 5 and 6, above, make a private approach to 
the Soviet Union that would include: our determination to prevent the fall 
of South Viet-Nam to Communism by whatever means is necessary; our 
concern over dangers to peace presented by the aggressive DRV policy 
with respect to South Viet-Nam; our intent to return to full compliance 
with the Geneva Accords as soon as the DRV does so; the distinction we 
draw between Laos and South Viet-Nam; and our expectation that the 
Soviet Union will exercise its influence on the CHICOMS and the DRV. 

8. A special diplomatic approach made to the United Kingdom in its 
role as co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference requesting that the United 
Kingdom seek the support of the Soviet co-Chairman for a cessation of 
DRV aggression against South Viet-Nam. 

9. A special diplomatic approach also to be made to India, both in its 
role as Chairman of the ICC and as a power having relations with Peiping 
and Hanoi. This approach should be made immediately prior to public 
release of the "Jorden report" and the exchange of letters between Diem 
and the President. 

10. Immediately prior to the release of the "Jorden report" and the 
exchange of letters between Diem and the President, special diplomatic 
approaches also to be made to Canada, as well as Burma, Indonesia, Cam- 
bodia, Ceylon, the UAR, and Yugoslavia. SEATO, NATO, and OAS mem- 
bers should be informed through those organizations, with selected members 
also informed individually. The possibility of some special approach to Po- 
land as a member of the ICC should also be considered. 

When we reach this memorandum in the record, the decision seems essen- 
tially sealed. Kennedy, by every indication in the press at the time and accord- 
ing to the recollections of all the memoirs, was, at the least, very reluctant to 
send American ground forces to Vietnam, and quite possibly every bit as "strongly 
opposed" as the leaked news stories depicted him. He now had a joint recom- 
mendation from his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense telling him just 
what he surely wanted to hear: that a decision on combat forces could be 
deferred. Consequently, Kennedy's decision on this point can hardly be con- 
sidered in doubt beyond November 11, although a formal NSC meeting on the 
question was not held until the 15th. On the question of demands on Diem, again 
there is no reason to suspect the issue was in doubt any later, at most, than the 
11th. The only questions which are in doubt are the extent to which the Rusk/ 
McNamara memorandum simply happened to come to the President in such 
convenient form, or whether the President arranged it so; and if so, how far 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 117 

this formal paper differed from the real recommendations of the President's 
senior advisors. The record available gives no basis for even guessing about this. 
As noted earlier, even McNamara, who is on record with a previous, quite dif- 
ferent memorandum, cannot be flatly said to have changed his mind (or been 
overruled). There is too much room for uncertainty about what he was really 
up to when he signed the memorandum. 

In any event, Kennedy essentially adopted the Rusk/McNamara set of recom- 
mendations, although the record is not entirely clear on when he did so. There 
was an NSC meeting November '5; but although at least the Chairman of the 
JCS was there, the record shows that even after this meeting there was some 
uncertainty (or perhaps reluctance) in the JCS about whether the decision had 
been made. The record shows that McNamara phoned General Lemnitzer to 
assure him that this was the case. But the cables transmitting the decision to 
Saigon were dated November 14, the day before the NSC meeting. The formal 
decision paper (NSAM 111) was not signed until November 22nd. As noted 
earlier, the NSAM is essentially the recommendations section of the Rusk/ 
McNamara paper, but with the initial recommendation (committing the U.S. 
to save Vietnam) deleted. 

The NSAM was headed "First Phase of Vietnam Program," which, of course, 
implied that a further decision to send combat troops was in prospect. Both Sor- j 
enson and Hilsman claim this was really a ruse by the President, who had 
no intention of going ahead with combat troops but did not choose to argue the 
point with his advisors. 

Schlesinger, apparently writing from diary notes, says the President talked 
to him about the combat troops recommendations at the time, describing the 
proposed first increment as like an alcoholic's first drink: 

The Taylor-Rostow report was a careful and thoughtful document, and 
the President read it with interest. He was impressed by its description of 
the situation as serious but not hopeless and attracted by the idea of stiff- 
ening the Diem regime through an infusion of American advisers. He did 
not, however, like the proposal of a direct American military commit- 
ment. "They want a force of American troops," he told me early in No- 
vember. "They say it's necessary in order to restore confidence and maintain 
morale. But it will be just like Berlin. The troops will march in; the bands 
will play; the crowds will cheer; and in four days everyone will have for- 
gotten. Then we will be told we have to send in more troops. It's like taking 
a drink. The effect wears off, and you have to take another." The war in 
Vietnam, he added, could be won only so long as it was their war. If it 
were ever converted into a white man's war, we would lose as the French 
had lost a decade earlier. 

Whether, in fact, Kennedy had such a firm position in mind at the time 
cannot be surmised, though, from the official record itself. It is easy to believe 
that he did, for as Sorenson points out, Kennedy had strong views on the diffi- 
culties of foreign troops putting down an insurgency dating from his bleak, but 
correct, appraisals of French prospects in Vietnam as early as 1951, and again 
in Algeria in the late 1950's. And he was hardly alone in such sentiments, 
as shown in columns of the period by Reston and Lippman, and in a private 
communication from Galbraith to be quoted shortly. 

But, Kennedy did not need to have such a firm position in mind to make 
the decisions he did. There was a case t© be made for deferring the combat 

118 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

troops decision even if the President accepted the view that U.S. troops com- 
mitments were almost certainly needed in Vietnam and that putting them in 
sooner would be better than waiting. There was, in particular, the arguments 
in the Rusk/McNamara memorandum that putting combat troops into Vietnam 
just then would upset the Laos negotiations, and the unstated but obvious argu- 

| ment that the U.S. perhaps ought to hold back on the combat troop commit- 

I ment to gain leverage on Diem. 

General Taylor's advice, as shown in the record, gave a different ground for 
delaying. Taylor argued that the ground troop commitment was essentially for 
its psychological, not military, impact. Taylor's judgment was that it was "very 
doubtful" that anything short of a prompt commitment of ground troops would 
restore South Vietnamese morale. But such a commitment would obviously be 
a costly stop. The President was thoroughly forewarned that such a move would 
lead both to continual pressure to send more troops and to political difficulties at 
home that would inevitably flow from the significant casualties that had to be 
expected to accompany a ground troop commitment. The risk of delaying the 
ground troop commitment might easily have been judged not worth the certain 
costs that would accompany it. And of course, in hindsight, we know that the 
limited program approved by the President wa§_siiffici£nl. to put off any im- 
minent collapse of the Diem regime. Consequently, Kennedy's decisions do not 
tell us just what his view was, and indeed he did not need to have a firmly 
settled view to make the decision, which after all, was only to put off, not to 

■ foreclose a decision to send ground troops. He had only to decide that, on 

; balance, the risks of deferring the troop decisions were no worse than the costs 
of making it, and he could have reached that judgment by any number of 
routes. The reasons stated in the various papers may or may not accurately 
reflect the President's state of mind. The only thing we can be sure of is that 
they conveyed his judgment of the tactically most suitable rationale to put in 
writing. The most detailed record we have of this rationale and explanation of 
is the following cable to Nolting: 

.... Review of Taylor Report has resulted in following basic decisions: 

1. Must essentially be a GVN task to contain and reduce the VC threat 
at present level of capability. Means organizing to go on offensive. We are 
prepared to contemplate further assistance after joint assessment establishes 
needs and possibilities of aid more precisely. 

2. No amount of extra aid can be substitute for GVN taking measures 
to permit them to assume offensive and strengthen the administrative and 
political bases of government. 

3. Do not propose to introduce into GVN and US combat troops now, 
but propose a phase of intense public and diplomatic activity to focus on 
infiltration from North. Shall decide later on course of action should in- 
filtration not be radically reduced. 

4. On flood, decide best course to treat as primarily civil problem, and 
occasion should be used to draw in as many nationals of other countries 
as can be used in GVN flood plan. Have been encouraged this course on 
advice of Desai of Indian Foreign Office who observed a good thing if 
some Indians and Burmese involved constructively in SVN and subject to 
VC attack. We prepared to put maximum pressure on FAO. Do not ex- 
clude ad hoc US military aid in flood area. 

5. Diplomatically position that the violations to be documented in Jor- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 119 

den report and strong references to DRV attack against SVN in DM's 
letter to Kennedy, need not confirm to the world and Communists that 
Geneva accords are being disregarded by our increased aid. Need not ac- 
cuse ourselves publicly, make Communist job easier. GVN should be ad- 
vised to counter charges by leveling charges against DRV and insisting 
that jTlCC investigates in SVN must equally investigate in NVN. Appreciate 
approach will make ICC task difficult but will explain position to Canadians 
and Indians to get their support. 

6. A crucial element in USG willingness to move forward is concrete 
demonstration by Diem that he is now prepared to work in an orderly 
way on his subordinates and broaderLthe political base of his regime. 

7. Package should be presented as first steps in a partnership in which 
US is prepared to do more as joint study of facts and GVN performance 
makes increased US aid possible and productive. 

8. Still possible Laotian settlement can be reached pertaining our min- 
imum objective of independent Laos on the basis of a neutral coalition, 
(although weak and unsatisfactory), headed by Souvanna. Would include 
provision Laos not be used as transit area or base for interference in SVN. 
Therefore must keep in mind impact of action in SVN or prospects for ac- 
ceptable Laos settlement. 

9. Introduction of US or Seato forces into SVN before Laotian settle- 
ment might wreck changes for agreement, lead to break up of Geneva 
conference, break Laos cease fire by communists with resumption of hos- 

10. Decision to introduce US combat forces in GVN would have to 
be taken in light of GVN effort, including support from people, Laotian 
situation, Berlin crisis, readiness of allies or sharply increased tension with 
Bloc, and enormous responsibilities which would have to be borne by US 
in event of escalation SEA or other areas. 

11. Hope measures outlined in instructions will galvanize and supple- 
ment GVN effort, making decision on use of US combat forces unnecessary 
and no need for decision in effect to shift primary responsibility for de- 
fense of SVN to USG. 

12. We are fully cognizant of extent to which decisions if implemented 
through Diem's acceptance will sharply increase the commitment of our 
prestige struggle to save SVN. 

13. Very strictly for your own information, DOD has been instructed 
to prepare plans for the use of US combat forces in SVN under various 
contingencies, including stepped up infiltration as well as organized inven- 
tory (sic) [military] intervention. However objective of our policy is to 
do all possible to accomplish purpose without use of US_combat forces. 

An accompanying cable also provided this additional comment on troops 

... 4. It is anticipated that one of the first questions President Diem 
will raise with you after your presentation of the above joint proposals 
will be that of introducing U.S. combat troops. You are authorized to 
remind him that the actions we already have in mind involve a substantial 
number of U.S. military personnel for operational duties in Viet-Nam and 
that we believe that these forces performing crucial missions can greatly 
increase the capacity of GVN forces to win their war against the Viet 

120 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V oh II 

Cong. You can also tell him that we believe that the missions being under- 
taken by our forces, under present circumstances, are more suitable for 
white foreign troops than garrison duty or missions involving the seeking 
out of Viet Cong personnel submerged in the Viet-Nam population. You 
can assure him that the USG at highest levels will be in daily contact 
with the situation in Viet-Nam and will be in constant touch with him 
about requirements of the situation. . . . 


The President's decisions were apparently sent to Nolting on the 14th, in a 
cable that is taken essentially verbatim from the description of the Rusk/ 
McNamara memorandum (paragraphs 3 and 4) of the program the U.S. was 
offering and the response expected from Diem. But the cable added some new 
language, putting still more emphasis on pressuring Diem: 

... It is most important that Diem come forth with changes which will 
be recognized as having real substance and meaning. Rightly or wrongly, 
i his regime is widely criticized abroad and in the U.S., and if we are to 
I give our substantial support we must be able to point to real administrative 
political and social reforms and a real effort to widen its base that will 
give maximum confidence to the American people, as well as to world 
i opinion that our efforts are not directed towards the support of an un- 
popular or ineffective regime, but rather towards supporting the combined 
efforts of all the non-Communist people of the GVN against a Communist 
take-over. You should make this quite clear, and indicate that the U.S. con- 
tribution to the proposed joint effort depends heavily upon his response to 
this point. 

You should inform Diem that, in our minds, the concept of the joint 
. undertaking envisages a much closer relationship than the present one of 
acting in an advisory capacity only. We would expect to share in the 
decision-making process in the political, economic and military fields as they 
| affect the security situation. 

Overall, then, what Kennedy ended up doing was to offer Diem a good 
deal less than he was expecting, and nevertheless to couple this offer with de- 
mands on Diem for which, on the basis of the available record, we can only 
I assume he was totally unprepared. Nolting's first cable, though, reported Diem 
listened quietly and "took our proposals rather better than I expected." 

Here are some extracts : 

... As anticipated [by Washington], his first question was re. introduc- 
tion's combat troops. I replied along line para 4 reftel. . . . 

Diem said that he presumed I realized that our proposals involved the 
question of the responsibility of the Government of Viet Nam. Viet Nam, 
he said, did not want to be a protectorate. 

I said that this was well understood; we for our part did not wish to 
make it one. Diem also pointed out that GVN was constantly in process 
of making reforms but major action could not be taken without thorough 
consideration and without having always in mind that there was a war to 
be won. Object was to restore order, not to create disorder. I said I recog- 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 121 

nized that this was a delicate judgment, in my opinion, as a friend of his 
country and of him, his greater risk was to stand pat, or act too cau- 
tiously . . . 

On the whole, I am not discouraged at Diem's reaction. In fact, he took 
our proposals rather better than I had expected. He has promised to call 
me as soon as he has been able to reflect upon our proposals and, until 
we have heard his considered reaction, I think it would be idle to speculate 
on outcome . . . 

On the 20th, Nolting met with Thuan, who among other things said the U.S. 
offer had set Diem to wondering "whether U.S. getting ready to back out on i 
Vietnam . . . as we had done in Laos." Nolting hoped Thuan's bleak report \\ 
was only a bargaining tactic. 

Thuan said that Diem had not yet discussed fully with him US proposals 
presented last Friday; but had given him impression of being "very_jiad_ j 
and very disappointed." Thuan said Diem had said he now hesitates to ] 
put proposals before even his cabinet ministers, fearing that they would f 
be disappointed and lose _heart. He had intended to discuss US proposals 
with both cabinet and selected members of assembly who had been con- 
sulted re advisability of US forces at time of Taylor Mission, but now 
thought contrast between his earlier question and our proposals too strik- 
ing. Thuan conveyed impression that Diem is brooding over US proposals 
and has made no move yet to develop specific ideas on actions GVN ex- 
pected to take. Thuan said President's attitude seemed to be that US asking 
great concessions of GVN in realm its sovereignty, in exchange for little | 
additional help; that this is great disappointment after discussions with 
General Taylor involving, in particular, concept of Delta Task Force; that \ 
Diem seemed to wonder whether US was getting ready to back out on | 
Viet Nam, as he suggested, we had done in Laos. 

There followed a long discussion in which Thuan described all the difficulties 
that would be involved in doing what the U.S. was asking, including the risk of 
looking like a U.S. puppet. 

There is nothing in our record to indicate any U.S. reconsideration of the 
decision against sending the military task force. Thus, if Diem and Thuan's 
response was a bargaining tactic to get the task force, it failed. On the other 
hand, if Diem was using disappointment over the failure to send the task force 
as a bargaining counter to get the U.S. to relent on its demands for reforms, 
then he got just what he wanted. But what amounted to a ^complete U.S. re- 
versal on these demands also may have been influenced by the advice Kennedy 
received from John Kenneth Galbraith at this time. Kennedy had asked 
Galbraith to stop by Saigon on his return to India. Galbraith did so, and after 
three days cabled back, among other things, the advice that it was a waste 
of effort to bargain with Diem. 

On the 20th, the day of Thuan's meeting with Nolting, Galbraith cabled 
the President: 

There is scarcely the slightest practical chance that the administrative 
and political reforms now being pressed upon Diem will result in real 
change . . . there is no solution that does not involve a change in govern- 

122 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

On the insurgency, though, Galbraith was optimistic, provided Diem was 

While situation is indubitably bad military aspects seem to me out of 
perspective. A comparatively well-equipped army with paramilitary forma- 
tions number a quarter million men is facing a maximum of 15-18,000 
lightly armed men. If this were equality, the United States would hardly 
be safe against the Sioux. I know the theories about this kind of warfare. 
. . . Given even a moderately effective government and putting the rela- 
tive military power into perspective, I can't help thinking the insurgency 
might very soon be settled. 

The following day, Galbraith, now in New Delhi, sent a more detailed ap- 
praisal, covering essentially the same ground. Here are some extracts. 

. . . The Viet Cong insurrection is still growing in effect. The outbreak 
on the Northern Highlands is matched by a potentially even more damag- 
ing impact on the economy and especially on the movement of rice to 

In the absence of knowledge of the admixture of terror and economic 
and social evangelism we had best assume that it is employing both. We 
must not forever be guided by those who misunderstand the dynamics of 
revolution and imagine that because the communists do not appeal to us 
they are abhorrent to everyone. 

In our enthusiasm to prove outside intervention before world opinion 
we have unquestionably exaggerated the role of material assistance espe- 
cially in the main area of insurrection in the far South. That leaders and 
radio guidance come in we know. But the amount of ammunition and 
weaponry that a man can carry on his back for several hundred kilometers 
over jungle trails was not increased appreciably by Marx. No major con- 
flict can depend on such logistic support. 

A maximum of 18,000 lightly armed men are involved in the insurrec- 
tion. These are GVN estimates and the factor of exaggeration is unques- 
tionably considerable. Ten thousand is more probable. What we have in 
opposition involves a heavy theological dispute. Diem it is said is a great 
but defamed leader. It is also said he has lost touch with the masses, is in 
political disrepute and otherwise no good. This debate can be bypassed by 
agreed points. It is agreed that administratively Diem is exceedingly bad. 
He holds far too much power in his own hands, employs his army badly, 
has no intelligence organization worthy of the name, has arbitrary or in- 
competent subordinates in the provinces and some achievements not- 
withstanding, has a poor economic policy. He has also effectively resisted im- 
provement for a long while in face of heavy deterioration. This is enough. 
Whether his political posture is nepotic, despotic, out of touch with the 
villagers and hence damaging or whether this damage is the figment of 
Saigon intellectuals does not bear on our immediate policy and may be 
by-passed at least in part. 

The SVN Army numbers 170,000 and with paramilitary units of the 
civil guard and home defense forces a quarter of a million. Were this well 
deployed on behalf of an effective government it should be obvious that 
the Viet Cong would have no chance of success or takeover. Washing- 
ton is currently having an intellectual orgasm on the unbeatability of 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 123 

guerrilla war. Were guerrillas effective in a ratio of one to fifteen or twenty- 
five, it is obvious that no government would be safe. The Viet Cong, it 
should be noted, is strongest in the Southern Delta which is not jungle but 
open rice paddy. 

The fundamental difficulties in countering the insurgency, apart from 
absence of intelligence, are two-fold. First is the poor command, deploy- 
ment, training, morale and other weaknesses of the army and paramilitary 
forces. And second while they can operate — sweep — through any part 
of the country and clear out any visible insurgents, they cannot guarantee 
security afterwards. The Viet Cong comes back and puts the arm on all 
who have collaborated. This fact is very important in relation to requests 
from American manpower. Our forces would conduct the round-up opera- 
tions which the RVN Army can already do. We couldn't conceivably 
send enough men to provide safety for the villages as a substitute for an 
effectively trained civil guard and home defense force and, perhaps, a 
politically cooperative community. 

The key and inescapable point, then, is the ineffectuality (abetted de- 
batably. by the unpopularity) of the Diem government. This is the stra- 
tegic factor. Nor can anyone accept the statement of those who have been 
either too long or too little in Asia that his is the inevitable posture of the 
Asian mandarin. For one thing it isn't true, but were it so the only possible 
conclusion would be that there is no future for mandarins. The communists 
don't favor them. 

I come now to a lesser miscalculation, the alleged weakening emphasis 
of the Mekong flood. Floods in this part of the world are an old trap for 
western non-agriculturists. They are judged by what the Ohio does to 
its towns. Now as the flood waters recede it is already evident that this 
flood conforms to the Asian pattern, one repeated every year in India. 
The mud villages will soon grow again. Some upland rice was drowned 
because the water rose too rapidly. Nearer the coast the pressure on the 
brackish water will probably bring an offsetting improvement. Next year's 
crop will be much better for the silt. 

I come now to policy, first the box we are in partly as the result of recent 
moves and second how we get out without a takeover. We have just pro- 
posed to help Diem in various ways in return for a promise of adminis- 
trative and political reforms. Since the administrative (and possibly po- 
litical) ineffectuality are the strategic factors for success the ability to get 
reforms is decisive. With them the new aid and gadgetry will be useful. 
Without them the helicopters, planes and adviser's won't make appre- 
ciable difference. 

In my completely considered view, as stated yesterday, Diem will not 
reform either administratively or politically in any effective way. That is 
because he cannot. It is politically naive to expect it. He senses that he 
cannot let power go because he would be thrown out. He may disguise this 
even from himself with the statement that he lacks effective subordinates 
but the circumstance remains unchanged. He probably senses that his 
greatest danger is from the army. Hence the reform that will bring ef- 
fective use of his manpower, though the most urgent may be the most im- 

The political reforms are even more unlikely but the issue is academic. 
Once the image of a politician is fixed, whether among opposition intel- 
lectuals or peasants, it is not changed . . . Diem's image would not be 

124 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V oh II 

changed by his taking in other non-communists, initiating some social 
reforms or otherwise meeting the requirements of our demarche. 

However having started on this hopeless game we have no alternative, 
but to play it out for a minimum time. Those who think there is hope of 
reform will have to be persuaded. 

* * * 

It is a cliche that there is no alternative to Diem's regime. This is po- 
litically naive. Where one man has dominated the scene for good or ill 
there never seems to be. No one considered Truman an alternative to 
Roosevelt. There is none for Nehru. There was none I imagine for Rhee. 
This is an optical illusion arising from the fact that the eye is fixed on the 
visible figures. It is a better rule that nothing succeeds like successors. 

i We should not be alarmed by the Army as an alternative. It would buy 
time and get a fresh dynamic. It is not ideal; civilian rule is ordinarily more 

; durable and more saleable to the world. But a change and a new start is 
of the essence and in considering opinion we may note that Diem's flavor 

1 is not markedly good in Asia. 

A time of crisis in our policy on South Vietnam will come when it be- 
comes evident that the reforms we have asked have not come off and that 
our presently proferred aid is not accomplishing anything. Troops will be 
urged to back up Diem. It will be sufficiently clear that I think this must 
be resisted. Our soldiers would not deal with the vital weakness. They could 
perpetuate it. They would enable Diem to continue to concentrate on pro- 
tecting his own position at the expense of countering the insurgency. 
Last spring, following the Vice President's promise of more aid, proposals 
for increased and reform taxes which were well advanced were promptly 
dropped. The parallel on administrative and political reform could be close. 

It will be said that we need troops for a show of strength and determina- 
tion in the area. Since the troops will not deal with fundamental faults — 
since there can't be enough of them to give security to the countryside — 
their failure to provide security could create a worse crisis of confidence. 

/You will be aware of my general reluctance to move in troops. On the 
other hand I would note that it is those of us who have worked in the 
political vineyard and who have committed our hearts most strongly to 
the political fortunes of the New Frontier who worry most about its bright 
promise being sunk under the rice fields. Dulles in 1954 saw the dangers in 

« this area. Dean Acheson knew he could not invest men in Chiang. 

* * * 

My overall feeling is that despite the error implicit in this last move and 
the supposition that Diem can be reformed, the situation is not hopeless. 
It is only hopeless if we marry our course to that of a man who must spend 
more time protecting his own position and excluding those who threaten 
it than in fighting the insurgency. Diem's calculation instinctive or delib- 
erate is evident. He has already been deposed once and not by the Com- 
munists. He can see his clear and present danger as well as anyone. 

Two things are particularly worth noting about Galbraith's advice: the first, 
to the extent it had an influence on Kennedy, it counselled him to avoid send- 
ing troops, but also not to take seriously the quid pro quo with Diem because 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 125 

Diem was not going to do anything anyway. Consequently, Galbraith, with a 
limitlessly bleak view of the prospects for success under Diem, really had no 
quarrel with those who argued against putting pressure on Diem and for trying 
to win his confidence. He had no argument, because he thought both ap- 
proaches (pressure and no pressure) were equally hopeless. And indeed, both 
had been tried during the year — the pressure approach in the CIP negotia- 
tions; the "get on his wave length" approach following the Task Force review 
— and both produced an identical lack of results. 

Second, Galbraith's analysis of the situation really has a good deal in com- 
mon with that of the Taylor Mission. Obviously, he thought we must be rid of 
Diem, and he apparently thought it was a mistake to put this move off by mak- 
ing new aid offers to Diem rather than letting word get around that we would 
be prepared to offer more support to Vietnam if Diem should be removed. 
But at this time, even people like Galbraith (and Schlesinger, as is clear from 
his memoir) saw no alternative to continuing to support Vietnam, although not 
to continuing to support Diem personally. Galbraith was, if anything, more 
optimistic about the chances of putting down the insurgency (given a change 
in Saigon) than was the Taylor Report. For his optimism was not at all con- 
tingent on any hopes of the efficacy of bombing threats against the north. For 
all we know, he may have been right in supposing any "moderately effec- 
tive" Saigon government could do all right against the insurgents; but we now 
know all too well how over-optimistic was his fairly confident expectation 
that a military replacement of the Diem regime would be at least moderately 

To return to the negotiations in Saigon, in late November, we now had the 
following situation: 

1. It was clear that Diem was, to say the least, disappointed with the bargain 
Kennedy had proposed. 

2. Kennedy was obviously aware that he had offered Diem less than Diem 
expected, and demanded much more in return. 

3. Both supporters of Diem, like Lansdale and Kenneth Young, and his 
severest critics, like Galbraith, were agreed that it was futile to try to force 
Diem to reform. Kennedy had already had his own experiences with such 
efforts earlier in the year. 

4. Presumably, although we have nothing to show it in the available record, 
there was some unrest within the Administration about the limited offer that 
was being made, the demands being pressed, and the delay it was all causing. 
To put off an agreement too long raised the dual threat of an awkward public 
squabble and renewed pressure on the President to send the task force after all. 

It is hard to think of any realistic counter-arguments to the case for settling the 
dispute and get on with either trying to do better in the war, or get rid of Diem. 

The next phase was a brief flurry of anti-American stories in the government- 
controlled Saigon press. The U.S. was accused, among other things, of trying 
to use Vietnam as a "pawn of capitalist imperialism." Nolting went to Diem to 
complain about the damage that such stories would do to U.S. -Vietnamese re- 
lations. But Diem disclaimed responsibility, and suggested they were an under- 
standable reaction of the South Vietnamese to what they had learned about the 
U.S. proposals from U.S. press reports. Nolting's final comment in his report 
on this meeting was a suggestion that the U.S. concentrate on "efficiency in 

126 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V 'ol. II 

GVN rather than on more nebulous and particularly offensive to Diem concept 
of political reform. " The impression given by the cable is that Nolting felt 
on the defensive, which was probably the case since the package Washington 
had proposed must have been disappointing to him as well as to Diem. 

It did not take long for Washington to back away from any hard demands 
on Diem. A sentence from the original guidance telegram stated "we would 
expect to share in the decision-making process in the political, economic and 
military fields as they affected the security situation" ... as opposed to the 
previous arrangement of "acting in an advisory capacity only." Alexis Johnson 
and Rostow drafted a cable on December 7 that "clarified" this and a number 
of other points to which Diem had strongly objected, in this case to explain 

. . . what we have in mind is that, in operations directly related to the 
security situation, partnership will be so close that one party will not take 
decisions or actions affecting the other without full and frank prior con- 
sultations. . . . 

This was quite a comedown from the idea that American involvement in the 
Vietnamese government should be so intimate that the government could be 
reformed "from the bottom up" despite Diem. Once the U.S. backed away from 
any tough interpretation of its proposals, agreement was fairly easily reached 
with Diem, and one of the usual fine sounding statements of agreed principles 
and measures was drawn up. 

On one seemingly modest request from Diem, Washington was curiously 
firm. Diem repeatedly, both while the Taylor Mission was in Saigon, and after 
its return, asked for Lansdale to be sent. (Our record shows four such requests, 
one directly by Diem to Taylor; a second from Thuan; and in a memorandum 
to McNamara William Bundy referred to two further requests relayed through 
McGarr.) Cottrell, the senior State representative on the Taylor Mission, 
strongly endorsed sending Lansdale, and the main paper of the Taylor Report 
seemed to endorse the idea. William Bundy was in favor of sending Lansdale, 
and Lansdale wanted to go. But nothing happened. Lansdale never got to 
Vietnam until Cabot Lodge brought him out later in 1965. 

The first contingents of helicopters arrived in Saigon December 11 (having 
been put to sea several weeks earlier) . On the following day a New York Times 
dispatch from Saigon began : 

Two United States Army helicopter companies arrived here today. The 
helicopters, to be flown and serviced by United States troops, are the first 
direct military support by the United States for South Vietnam's war 
against Communist guerrilla forces. 

The craft will be assigned to the South Vietnamese Army in the field, 
but they will remain under United States Army control and operation. 

At least 33 H-21C twin-rotor helicopters, their pilots and ground crews, 
an estimated total of 400 men, arrived aboard the Military Sea Transporta- 
tion Service aircraft ferry Core. 

The Times story ended by describing the force as "the first fruits" of the 
Taylor Mission, with more to come. The Times did not find the story important 
enough to put it on the front page. 

The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 111 

A day later, the Times published a story about the ICC reaction to the arrival 
of the helicopters. It began: 

The International Control Commission for Vietnam was reported to- 
day to be considering whether to continue functioning here in the face 
of an increase in United States assistance to South Vietnam's struggle 
against Communist guerrillas. 

The Commission, made up of representatives of India, Canada, and 
Poland, has been holding emergency sessions since the arrival here yester- 
day of a United States vessel loaded with at least 33 helicopters and 
operating and maintenance crews. 

A few paragraphs later, the dispatch noted that: 

With the arrival yesterday of the Core, a former escort carrier, bearing 
the helicopters, four single-engine training planes and about 400 men, the 
United States military personnel here now are believed to total about 1,500. 
Many more are expected. 

Again, the Times ran the story on an inside page. 

Finally, on the 15th, a formal exchange of letters between Presidents Diem 
and Kennedy was published, announcing in general terms a stepped-up U.S. 
aid program for Vietnam. 


2. The Strategic Hamlet Program 

Summary and Analysis 

A specific strategy by which the U.S. and GVN would attempt to end the 
insurgency in South Vietnam had never been agreed upon at the time that the 
U.S. decided, late in 1961, to increase materially its assistance to GVN and to 
expand its advisory effort into one which would implement a "limited partner- 
ship." By early 1962, however, there was apparent consensus among the princi- 
pal participants that the Strategic Hamlet Program, as it came to be called, 
represented the unifying concept for a strategy designed to pacify rural Vietnam 
(the Viet Cong's chosen battleground) and to develop support among the 
peasants for the central government. 

The Strategic Hamlet Program was much broader than the construction of 
strategic hamlets per se. It envisioned sequential phases which, beginning with 
clearing the insurgents from an area and protecting the rural populace, pro- 
gressed through the establishment of GVN infrastructure and thence to the 
provision of services which would lead the peasants to identify with their gov- 
ernment. The strategic hamlet program was, in short, an attempt to translate 
the newly articulated theory of counter-insurgency into operational reality. 
The objective was political though the means to its realization were a mixture 
of military, social, psychological, economic and political measures. 

The effect of these sequential steps to pacification was to make it very diffi- 
cult to make intermediate assessments of progress. One could not really be sure 
how one was doing until one was done. Physical security by itself (the so- 
called "clear and hold" initial step) was a necessary condition for pacification, 
not a sufficient one. The establishment of governmental functions was not, by 
itself, necessarily conducive to a successful effort; the quality of those functions 
and their responsiveness to locally felt needs was critical. This inherent difficulty 
in assessing progress did not simply mean that it was difficult to identify prob- 
lems and to make improvements as one went along — which it was. It also meant 
that it was quite possible to conclude that the program as a whole was progress- 
ing well (or badly) according to evidence relating only to a single phase or a 
part of a phase. 

A related problem arose from the uniqueness of this program in American 
experience — pacification by proxy. The theory of sequential phases could be 
variously interpreted. This is not the problem of the three blind men describing 
the elephant; it is the problem of men with different perspectives each moulding 
his own conception of a proper body to the same skeleton. If the final product 
were to have some semblance of coherence and mutual satisfaction it was neces- 
sary that the shapers came to agreement on substance and operational pro- 
cedure, not just that they agree on the proper skeleton upon which to work. 

The problem with the apparent consensus which emerged early in 1962 was 
that the principal participants did view it with different perspectives and expec- 
tations. On the U.S. side, military advisors had a set of preferences which 
affected their approach to the Strategic Hamlet Program. They wanted to make 
RVNAF more mobile, more aggressive, and better organized to take the offen- 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 129 

sive against the Viet Cong. They were, consequently, extremely leery of pro- 
posals which might lead it to be tied down in strategic defenses ("holding" 
after "clearing" had been completed) or diverted too much to military civic 
action undertakings. 

The American political leadership, insofar as a generalization may be 
attempted, may be said to have been most concerned with the later phases of 
the program — those in which GVN services were provided, local governments 
established, and the economy bolstered. Military clearing operations were, to 
them, a distasteful, expensive, but necessary precondition to the really critical 
and important phases of the effort. 

Both of these U.S. groups had perspectives different from those of the Diem 
administration. In the U.S. view the insurgents were only one of Diem's 
enemies; he himself was the other. In this view the process of pacification 
could proceed successfully only if Diem reformed his own government. It was 
precisely to achieve these goals simultaneously that the U.S. agreed to enter a 
"limited partnership" with GVN in the counter-insurgent effort. The Strategic 
Hamlet Program became the operational symbol of this effort. 

President Diem — unsurprisingly — had a very different view. His need, as he 
saw it, was to get the U.S. committed to South Vietnam (and to his administra- 
tion) without surrendering his independence. He knew that his nation would 
fall without U.S. support; he feared that his government would fall if he either 
appeared to toady to U.S. wishes or allowed any single group too much potential 
power — particularly coercive power. The Strategic Hamlet Program offered a 
vehicle by which he could direct the counterinsurgent effort as he thought it 
should be directed and without giving up either his prerogatives to the U.S. or 
his mantle to his restless generals. 

The program, in the form of a plan for pacification of the Delta, was for- 
mally proposed to Diem in November 1961 by R. G. K. Thompson, head of the 
newly arrived British Advisory Mission. U.S. military advisors favored at that 
time an ARVN penetration of the VC redoubt in War Zone D prior to any 
operations aimed specifically at pacification. But U.S. political desires to start 
some local operation which could achieve concrete gains combined with Diem's 
preference for a pacification effort in an area of strategic importance led to the 
initial effort in March 1962, "Operation SUNRISE," in Binh Duong Province 
north of Saigon. This was a heavily VC-infliltrated area rather than one of mini- 
mal penetration, as Thompson had urged. But planning — as distinct from op- 
erations — continued on the Delta plan and strategic hamlets were constructed 
in a variegated, uncoordinated pattern throughout the spring and early summer. 
The U.S. had little or no influence over these activities; the primary impetus was 
traceable directly to the President's brother and political counsellor, Ngo Dinh 

In August 1962, GVN produced its long awaited national pacification plan 
with four priority areas and specified priorities within each area. At the same 
time, however, it indicated that over 2,500 strategic hamlets had already been 
completed and that work was already underway on more than 2,500 more. 
Although it was not until October 1962, that GVN explicitly announced the 
Strategic Hamlet Program to be the unifying concept of its pacification and 
counterinsurgent effort it was clear earlier that the program had assumed this 
central position. 

Three important implications of this early progress (or, more precisely, re- 
ported progress) are also clear in retrospect. These implications seem not to 
have impressed themselves acutely upon U.S. observers at the time. First, the 

130 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V 'ol. II 

program was truly one of GVN initiative rather than one embodying priorities 
and time phasing recommended by the U.S. Diem was running with his own 
ball in programmatic terms, no matter who articulated the theory of the ap- 
proach. The geographic dispersion of hamlets already reported to be completed 
indicated that there was, in fact, a conscious effort to implement this phase al- 
most simultaneously throughout the entire nation rather than to build slowly as 
Diem's foreign advisors (both U.S. and British) recommended. 

Finally, the physical aspects of Diem's program were similar if not identical 
to earlier population resettlement and control efforts practiced by the French 
and by Diem. The long history of these efforts was marked by consistency in re- 
sults as well as in techniques: all failed dismally because they ran into resent- 
ment if not active resistance on the part of the peasants at whose control and 
safety, then loyalty, they were aimed. U.S. desires to begin an effective process 
of pacification had fastened onto security as a necessary precondition and 
slighted the historic record of rural resistance to resettlement. President Diem 
and his brother, for their part, had decided to emphasize control of the rural 
population as the precondition to winning loyalty. The record is inconclusive 
with respect to their weighing the record of the past but it appears that they, 
too, paid it scant attention. Thus the early operational efforts indicated a danger 
of peasant resistance, on one hand, and of divergent approaches between, in 
the initial steps, the U.S. (focused on security measures) and Diem (concerned 
more with control measures). Since the physical actions to achieve security 
and those to impose control are in many respects the same, there was generated 
yet another area in which assessments of progress would be inconclusive and 
difficult to make. 

U.S. attention, once an apparent consensus had been forged concentrated on 
program management efforts in two categories: to convince GVN to proceed at 
a more measured, coherent pace with a qualitative improvement in the physical 
construction of strategic hamlets; and to schedule material assistance (fortifica- 
tion materials, etc.) and training for local defense forces to match the rate of 
desired hamlet construction. 

U.S. assessments, at the same time, concentrated on the physical aspects of 
the program and on VC activity in areas where strategic hamlets had been con- 
structed. Assessments tended to be favorable from a security (or control) view- 
point and uneven with respect to political development. The general conclu- 
sion was almost always one of cautious optimism when security (control) was 
emphasized, one of hopeful pessimism when political follow-up was stressed. The 
impression in Washington was typically slanted toward the more optimistic ap- 
praisals if for no other reason than that hamlet construction and security ar- 
rangements were the first chronological steps in the long process to pacification. 
Was it not, after all, "progress" to have moved from doing nothing to doing 
something even though the something was being done imperfectly? 

These U.S. assessments changed only marginally throughout the life of the 
program. By the time, in 1963, that the hopeful pessimist voices were clearer, 
it was also much clearer that the Ngo brothers had made the Strategic Hamlet 
Program into one closely identified with their regime and with Diem's rather 
esoterically phrased "person alist revolution." Fears grew that Diem was attempt- 
ing to impose loyalty from the top through control rather than to build it from 
the bottom by deeds. These fears were not limited to the Strategic Hamlet Pro- 
gram, however; they extended to urban as well as rural phases of South Viet- 
namese life and were subsumed, as the Buddhist question moved to the fore, by 
the general issue of the viability of Diem's regime. 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 131 

President Diem grew increasingly unwilling to meet U.S. demands for re- 
form. He believed that to do so would cause his government to fail. U.S. ob- 
servers held that failure to do so would cause the nation, not just the govern- 
ment to fall. In the event the government fell and the nation's counterinsurgent 
program took a definite turn for the worse, but the nation did not fall. The 
Strategic Hamlet Program did. Closely identified with the Ngo brothers, it was 
almost bound to suffer their fortunes; when they died it died, too. The new 
government of generals, presumably realizing the extent of peasant displeasure 
with resettlement and control measures, did nothing to save it. 

A number of contributory reasons can be cited for the failure of the Strategic 
Hamlet Program. Over-expansion of construction and poor quality of defenses 
forms one category. This reason concentrates only on the initial phase of the 
program, however. While valid, it does little to explain why the entire program 
collapsed rather than only some hamlets within it. Rural antagonisms which 
identified the program with its sponsors in the central government are more 
suggestive of the basis for the complete collapse as Diem and Nhu departed the 
scene. The reasons why they departed are traceable in part to the different ex- 
pectations which combined in the apparent consensus at the program's begin- 
ning: to Diem's insistence on material assistance and independence, to U.S. 
willingness to provide assistance only if its advice was heeded, and to the fail- 
ure to resolve this question either by persuasion or leverage. 

Having said this, it does not automatically follow that the program would 
have succeeded even if Diem had met U.S. demands for change. To point to the 
causes of failure is one thing; to assume that changes of style would have led 
to success is quite another. It may well be that the program was doomed from 
the outset because of peasant resistance to measures which changed the pat- 
tern of rural life — whether aimed at security or control. It might have been 
possible, on the other hand, for a well-executed program eventually to have 
achieved some measure of success. The early demise of the program does not 
permit a conclusive evaluation. The weight of evidence suggests that the Stra- 
tegic Hamlet Program was fatally flawed in its conception by the unintended 
consequence of alienating many of those whose loyalty it aimed to win. 

This inconclusive finding, in turn, suggests that the sequential phases em- 
bodied in the doctrine of counterinsurgency may slight some very important 
problem areas. The evidence is not sufficient for an indictment; still less is one 
able to validate the counterinsurgent doctrine with reference to a program 
that failed. The only verdict that may be given at this time with respect to the 
validity of the doctrine is that used by Scots courts — "case not proved." 

End of Summary and Analysis 

1953-1959 French and GVN early attempts at population resettlement into 
defended communities to create secure zones. 

1959 Rural Community Development Centers (Agroville) Program 

initiated by GVN. 

Late 1960 USMAAG Counterinsurgency Plan Vietnam completed. 

Early 1961 Agroville Program modified by construction of "Agro-Hamlets" 
to meet peasant objections. 

132 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V 'ol. II 
May 1961 Vice President Johnson's visit to RVN. 

July 1961 Staley Group report on increased economic aid and increase in 
RVNAF strength. 

15 Sep 1961 USMAAG Geographically Phased National Level Operation Plan 
for Counterinsurgency. 

18 Oct 1961 General Taylor arrives in RVN; President Diem declares national 


27 Oct 1961 R. G. K. Thompson submits to President Diem his Appreciation 

of Vietnam, November 1961-1962. 

3 Nov 1961 General Taylor submits his report and recommendations to Presi- 
dent Kennedy. 

13 Nov 1961 R. G. K. Thompson submits his draft plan for pacification of the 
Delta to President Diem. 

15 Nov 1961 NSC drafts NSAM 111. Cable to Ambassador Nolting, in- 
structing him to meet with Diem, lays out proposed U.S. as- 
sistance and expected GVN effort. 

22 Nov 1961 NSAM 111. 

15 Dec 1961 First Secretary of Defense Conference, Honolulu. 

2 Feb 1962 Roger Hilsman's A Strategic Concept for South Vietnam. 

3 Feb 1962 Diem creates Inter-Ministerial Committee on Strategic Hamlets. 

19 Mar 1962 Diem approves Thompson's "Delta Plan" for execution. 

22 Mar 1962 "Operation SUNRISE" commences in Binh Duong Province. 

8 Aug 1962 GVN National Strategic Hamlet Construction Plan. 

28 Oct 1962 GVN devotes entire issue of The Times of Vietnam to "The Year 

of the Strategic Hamlet." 

8 May 1962 Buddhist controversy erupts when GVN troops fire on demon- 
strators in Hue. 

24 Aug 1963 State to Lodge, Message 243, says that U.S. can no longer 
tolerate Nhu's continuation in power. 

10 Sept 1963 General Krulak and Mr. Mendenhall give contradictory reports 
on progress of war to NSC. 

2 Oct 1963 Secretary McNamara reports to President Kennedy following his 
visit to RVN with General Taylor. 

1 Nov 1963 Coup d'etat by group of generals against President Diem. 



The Strategic Hamlet Program in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN)— articu- 
lated and carried forward from late 1961 until late 1963 — has created some 
confusion because of terminology. One source of confusion stems from the 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 133 

similarity between the physical aspects of the program and earlier fortified 
communities of one kind or another. Another source of confusion rises because 
of the loose usage of "hamlet" as compared to "village" and because of the 
practice of referring to these communities as "defended," "secure," and "forti- 
fied" as well as "strategic." But the greatest source of confusion lies in the dis- 
tinction between a strategic hamlet per se and the strategic hamlet program. 

The hamlet is the smallest organized community in rural South Vietnam. 
Several hamlets (typically 3-5) comprise a village. During the strategic hamlet 
program both hamlets and villages were fortified. The distinction is unimportant 
for the present analysis, except as it bears on the defensibility of the community 
protected. The several adjectives coupled with hamlet or village were occasion- 
ally used to differentiate communities according to the extent of their defenses 
or the initial presumed loyalty of their inhabitants. More often no such dis- 
tinction was made; the terms were used interchangeably. Where a distinction 
exists, the following account explains it. 

The phrase Strategic Hamlet Program when used to represent the program 
is much broader than the phrase applied to the hamlets themselves. The pro- 
gram, as explained below, envisioned a process of pacification of which the 
construction of strategic hamlets was but part of one phase, albeit a very im- 
portant part. This paper examines the program, not just the hamlets. 


Population relocation into defended villages was by no means a recent de- 
velopment in Southeast Asia. Parts of South Vietnam had experience with the 
physical aspects of fortified communities going back many years. As the in- 
tellectual godfather of the Strategic Hamlet Program has put it, the concept's 
use as one of the measures to defeat communist insurgency ". . . has only 
meant that the lessons of the past had to be relearnt." 

The administration of President Diem had relearned these lessons much ear- 
lier than late 1961. There was, in fact, no need to relearn them because they 
had never been forgotten. The French had made resettlement and the develop- 
ment of "secure zones" an important element in their effort near the end of 
the war with the Viet Minh. The government of newly-created South Vietnam, 
headed since 1954 by President Diem, had continued resettlement schemes to 
accommodate displaced persons, to control suspected rural populations, and to 
safeguard loyal peasants in the threatened areas. None of these efforts involv- 
ing resettlement had succeeded. Each had inspired antagonism among the peas- 
ants who were moved from their ancestral lands and away from family burial 

Diem's actions in late 1961 were thus inescapably tied to earlier actions by 
proximity in time, place, and the personal experiences of many peasants. 
Chief among the earlier programs was that of the so-called Agrovilles or "Rural 
Community Development Centers," launched in 1959. The Agrovilles, group- 
ments of 300-500 families, were designed to afford the peasantry the social 
benefits of city life (schools and services), to increase their physical security, 
and to control certain key locations by denying them to the communists. They 
were designed to improve simultaneously the security and well-being of their 
inhabitants and the government's control over the rural population and rural 

The Agroville program was generally unsuccessful. The peasants had many 
complaints about it ranging from clumsy, dishonest administration to the 

134 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

physical hardship of being too far from their fields and the psychological wrench 
of being separated from ancestral homes and burial plots. By 1960, President 
Diem had slowed the program in response to peasant complaints and the Viet 
Cong's ability to exploit this dissatisfaction. 

The transition from Agrovilles to strategic hamlets in 1961 was marked by 
the so-called "Agro-hamlet" which attempted to meet some of the peasants' 

The smaller 100 family Agro-hamlet was located more closely to lands 
tilled by the occupants. Construction was carried out at a slower pace 
rilled to the peasant's planting and harvesting schedule. . . By the end 
of 1961, the Agro-hamlet had become the prototype of a vast civil defense 
scheme known as strategic hamlets, Ap Chien Luoc. 

It was inevitable, given this lineage, that the strategic hamlet program be re- 
garded by the peasants as old wine in newly-labelled bottles. The successes and 
failures of the past were bound to condition its acceptance and by late 1961 
the Diem government was having more failures than successes. 


By late 1961, if not earlier, it had become clear in both Saigon and Washing- 
ton that the yellow star of the Viet Cong was in the ascendancy. Following the 
1960 North Vietnamese announcement of the twin goals of ousting President 
Diem and reunifying Vietnam under communist rule, the Viet Cong began 
sharply to increase its guerrilla, subversive, and political warfare. Viet Cong 
regular forces, now estimated to have grown to 25,000, had been organized into 
larger formations and employed with increasing frequency. The terrorist- 
guerrilla organization had grown to an estimated 17,000 by November 1961. 
During the first half of 1961, terrorists and guerrillas had assassinated over 
500 local officials and civilians, kidnapped more than 1,000, and killed almost 
1,500 RVNAF personnel. The VC continued to hold the initiative in the coun- 
tryside, controlling major portions of the populace and drawing an increasingly 
tight cinch around Saigon. The operative question was not whether the Diem 
government as it was then moving could defeat the insurgents, but whether it 
could save itself. 

Much of this deterioration of the situation in RVN was attributable, in U.S. 
eyes, to the manner in which President Diem had organized his government. 
The struggle — whether viewed as one to gain loyalty or simply to assert con- 
trol — was focused in and around the villages and hamlets in the countryside. 
It was precisely in those areas that the bilineal GVN organization (ARVN and 
civilian province chiefs) most lacked the capability for concerted and cohesive 
action. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was developing a po- 
tentially effective institutional framework under U.S. tutelage, but that effec- 
tiveness against the VC, Diem realized, could potentially be transferred into 
effectiveness against himself. The abortive coup of late 1960 had made Diem 
even more reluctant than he had earlier been to permit power (especially co- 
ercive power) to be gathered into one set of hands other than his own. Still, 
the establishment of an effective military chain of command which could op- 
erate where necessary in the countryside remained the prime objective of U.S. 
military advisors. 

A unitary chain of command had recently been ordered into effect within 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961^1963 135 

ARVN, but this had not solved the operational problems, for military operations 
were inescapably conducted in areas under the control of an independent po- 
litical organization with its own military forces and influence on operations of 
all kinds — military, paramilitary, and civic action. The province chiefs, per- 
sonally selected by President Diem and presumably loyal to him, controlled po- 
litically the territory in dispute with the VC and within which ARVN must 
operate. They also controlled territorial forces comprising the Civil Guard (CG) 
and Self Defense Corps (SDC) . 

For President Diem's purposes this bilineal organization offered an opportu- 
nity to counterbalance the power (and coup potential) of the generals by the 
power of the province chiefs. It was a device for survival. But the natural by- 
product of this duality, in terms of the effectiveness of actions against the VC, 
was poor coordination and imperfect cooperation in intelligence collection and 
production, in planning, and in operational execution in the countryside, where 
the battles were fought — both the "battle for men's minds" and the more easily 
understood battles for control of the hamlets, villages, districts, and provinces. 

The U.S. and GVN were agreed that in order to defeat the insurgency it 
was necessary that the rural populace identify with at least the local representa- 
tives of the central government. They were agreed, too, that some measure of 
physical security must be provided the rural population if this end were to be 
achieved. Both agreed that the GVN must be the principal agent to carry out 
the actions which would bring the insurgency to an end. 

The high level U.S. -GVN discussions held during President Kennedy's first 
year in office focused on what the U.S. could provide GVN to assist the lat- 
ter's counterinsurgency efforts and on what GVN should do organizationally 
to make its efforts more effective. A subsidiary and related discussion revolved 
around the U.S. advisory organization to parallel the GVN reorganization. The 
problem of how additional resources in some improved organizational frame- 
work were to be applied operationally was fragmented into many sub-issues 
ranging from securing the border to building social infrastructure. 

The story of the Strategic Hamlet Program, as it came to be called, is one in 
which an operational concept specifying a sequence of concrete steps was 
introduced by an articulate advocate, nominally accepted by all of the principal 
actors, and advanced to a position of apparent centrality in which it became 
the operational blueprint for ending the insurgency. But it is also the story of 
an apparent consensus built on differing, sometimes competing, expectations and 
of an effort which was, in retrospect, doomed by the failure to resolve in one 
context the problem it was designed to alleviate in another — the problem of 
GVN stability. 



Beginning in May 1961, the U.S. and GVN conducted a series of high level 
conferences to fashion responses to the insurgent challenge. The first of these 
was the visit to Saigon by the Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson. The Vice 
President's consultations were designed to reinforce the U.S. commitment to 
RVN and to improve the image of President Diem's government. 

In a communique issued jointly in Saigon, it was agreed that the RVNAF was 
to be increased to 150,000 men, that the U.S. would support the entire Civil 

136 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V 'ol. II 

Guard with military assistance funds, that Vietnamese and U.S. military special- 
ists would be used to support village-level health and public works activities, and 
that the two governments would "discuss 

[material missing] 

the reserve forces if possible as they come up to defend; and to dramatize 
the inability of the GVN to govern or to build, by the assassination of of- 
ficials and the sabotage of public works. 

The purpose of this military strategy, Taylor asserted, was apparently not to 
capture the nation by force. Rather, in concert with non-military means, it was 
to produce a political crisis which would topple the government and bring to 
power a group willing to contemplate the unification of Vietnam on Hanoi's 

It was in the U.S. interest, Taylor reasoned, to act vigorously — with advice 
as well as aid — in order to buy the necessary time for Vietnam to mobilize and 
to organize its real assets so that the Vietnamese themselves might "turn the 
tide" and assume the offensive. But U.S. aid and U.S. advice on where to use it 
were not enough. The Diem Government itself had to be reformed in order to 
permit it to mobilize the nation. Diem had, in Taylor's assessment, allowed two 
vicious circles to develop which vitiated government effectiveness. In the first 
of these circles poor military intelligence led to a defensive stance designed pri- 
marily to guard against attacks, which in turn meant that most of the military 
forces came under the control of the province chiefs whose responsibility it 
was to protect the populace and installations. This control by province chiefs 
meant that reserves could not, because of tangled lines of command and con- 
trol, be moved and controlled quickly enough to be effective. The effect of 
high losses in unsuccessful defensive battles served further to dry up the basic 
sources of intelligence. 

The second vicious circle stemmed from Diem's instinctive attempts to cen- 
tralize power in his own hands while fragmenting it beneath him. His excessive 
mistrust of many intellectuals and younger Vietnamese, individuals badly needed 
to give his administration vitality, served only to alienate them and led them to 
stand aside from constructive participation — thereby further increasing Diem's 
mistrust. This administrative style fed back, too, into the military equation and 
through it, created another potentially explosive political-military problem: 

The inability to mobilize intelligence effectively for operational pur- 
poses directly flows from this fact [Diem's administrative practice] as do 
the generally poor relations between the Province Chiefs and the military 
commanders, the former being Diem's reliable agents, the latter a power 
base he fears. The consequent frustration of Diem's military commanders — 
a frustration well-known to Diem and heightened by the November 1960 
coup — leads him to actions which further complicate his problem; e.g., 
his unwillingness to delegate military operations clearly to his generals. 

General Taylor's recommended actions for the U.S. were designed to demon- 
strate U.S. commitment in order to strengthen Diem's stand and, to broaden 
U.S. participation in the hope of bringing about necessary reforms in Diem's 
regime. The President's emissary rejected the alternatives of a military takeover 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 137 

which would make the generals dominant in all fields. He rejected, too, the 
alternative of replacing Diem with a weaker figure who would be willing to 
delegate authority to both military and civil leaders. The first course would 
emphasize the solution to only one set of problems while slighting others; the 
second would permit action, but not coordinated action. 


In order to move in a coordinated way on the intermingled military, politi- 
cal, economic, and social problems facing South Vietnam, General Taylor 
recommended that the U.S. initiate a "limited partnership" which would stop 
short of direct U.S. action but would also, through persuasion at many levels 
judiciously mixed with U.S. leverage, ". . . force the Vietnamese to get their 
house in order in one area after another." Increased material assistance from 
the U.S. would be accompanied with increased U.S. participation at all levels 
of government in which the American advisors must ". . . as friends and 
partners — not as arms-length advisors — show them how the job might be done 
— not tell them or do it for them." If strongly motivated, tactful Americans 
were assigned primarily outside Saigon, thus avoiding the establishment of large 
headquarters not actually engaged in operational tasks, Taylor thought that this 
increased U.S. participation would not be "counter-productive"; e.g., lend sub- 
stance to claims of U.S. imperialism and dominance of the Diem Government. 

Thus, Taylor consciously opted for a U.S. course of action in which the 
major thrust of effort would be to induce Diem to do the things that the U.S. 
thought should be done: to draw the disaffected into the national effort and to 
organize and equip so that effective action would be possible. General Taylor 
did not argue explicitly that success would follow automatically if Diem's prac- 
tices could be reformed and his operational capabilities upgraded, but he im- 
plied this outcome. The question of an overall strategy to defeat the insurgency 
came very close to being regarded as a problem in the organization and man- 
agement of resources. Since GVN had no national plan, efforts were concen- 
trated on inducing them to produce one. There was much less concern about 
the substance of the non-existent GVN plan. It was almost as though there had 
to be something to endorse or to criticize before substantive issues could be 
treated as relevant. 


This priority of business is reflected in the U.S. plans which were proposed 
to GVN for adoption by the latter. In late 1960 the U.S. Country Team in 
Saigon produced an agreed "Counterinsurgency Plan for Viet-Nam" (CIP). The 
plan was an attempt to specify roles and relationships within GVN in the coun- 
terinsurgency effort, to persuade Diem to abandon his bilineal chain of com- 
mand in favor of a single command line with integrated effort at all levels 
within the government, and to create the governmental machinery for coordi- 
nated national planning. It was recognized that these recommendations were 
not palatable to President Diem, but reorganization along the lines specified was 
regarded as essential to successful accomplishment of the counterinsurgent 

The CIP was an indictment of GVN failure to organize effectively and to 
produce coordinated national plans. It advanced no operational concepts for 
adoption by GVN. This obvious omission was corrected in the "Geographically 

138 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Voh II 

Phased National Level Operation Plan for Counterinsurgency" which MAAG 
Vietnam published on 15 September 1961. Not only did this plan specify the 
areas of primary interest for pacification operations — as its title indicates — it 
also set forth a conceptual outline of the three sequential phases of actions 
which must be undertaken. In the first, "preparatory phase," the intelligence 
effort was to be concentrated in the priority target areas, surveys were to be 
made to pinpoint needed economic and political reforms, plans were to be 
drawn up, and military and political cadres were to be trained for the spe- 
cific objective area. The second, or "military phase," would be devoted to 
clearing the objective area with regular forces, then handing local security re- 
sponsibility over to the Civil Guard (CG) and to establishing GVN presence. 
In the final, "security phase," the Self Defense Corps (SDC) would assume the 
civil action-local security mission, the populace was to be "reoriented," politi- 
cal control was to pass to civilian hands, and economic and social programs were 
to be initiated to consolidate government control. Military units would be 
withdrawn as security was achieved and the target area would be "secured" 
by the loyalty of its inhabitants — a loyalty attributable to GVN's successful 
responses to the felt needs of the inhabitants. 

First priority in this plan (1962 operations) was to go to six provinces around 
Saigon and to the Kontum area. Second priority (1963) would be given to ex- 
pansion southward into the Delta and southward in the Central Highlands from 
Kontum. Third priority (1964) would continue the spread of GVN control in 
the highlands and shift the emphasis in the south to the provinces north and 
east of Saigon. Before any of these priority actions were undertaken, however, 
it was proposed to conduct an ARVN sweep in War Zone D, in the jungles 
northeast of Saigon, to reduce the danger to the capital and to increase ARVN's 

The geographically phased plan complemented the earlier CIP. Together, 
these two U.S. efforts constituted an outline blueprint for action. It is, of course, 
arguable that this was the best conceivable blueprint, but it was at least a com- 
prehensive basis for refinement — for arguments for different priorities or a 
changed "series of events" in the process of pacification. 


This is not how matters proceeded, in the event. Ambassador Durbrow, 
General McGarr, and others urged acceptance of the CIP upon President 
Diem, but with only partial success. Diem stoutly resisted the adoption of a 
single, integrated chain of operational command, showed no enthusiasm for 
detailed prior planning, continued his practice of centralized decision-making 
(sometimes tantamount to decision pigeonholing), and continued to play off 
the province chiefs against the generals. Some aspects of the CIP were ac- 
cepted, but the basic organizational issues remained unresolved and the strate- 
gic approach unresolved by default. 

The unsuccessful U.S. attempts to secure organizational reforms within the 
Diem government had assumed psychological primacy by the time of General 
Taylor's October 1961 mission to Saigon. The American position was essen- 
tially that no operational plan could succeed unless GVN were reorganized to 
permit effective implementation. It was reorganization that Taylor emphasized, 
as detailed above. But General Taylor did bring up the need for some coordi- 
nated operational plan in his talks with President Diem. Diem's response is de- 
scribed in a cable to Washington by Ambassador Nolting: 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 139 

Taylor several times stressed importance of overall plan — military, po- 
litical, economic, psychological, etc. — for dealing with guerrillas. Diem 
tended avoid clear response this suggestion but finally indicated that he 
has a new strategic plan of his own. Since it was not very clear in spite ef- 
forts to draw him out what this plan is, Taylor asked him to let us have a 
copy in writing. 


President Diem may have been whistling in the dark about a new plan of his 
own. It is likely, however, that he was already conversant with the ideas of a 
new high level advisor who had been in Saigon for several weeks and whose ap- 
proach to prosecuting the war he would soon endorse officially as his own. The 
advisor was RGK Thompson, a British civil servant who had come from the 
position of Permanent Secretary of Defense in Malaya. Thompson's British Ad- 
visory Mission was in Saigon in response to Diem's request for experienced 
third country nationals to assist him in his counterinsurgent operations. There 
had been some initial U.S. objection to British "advice without responsibility," 
but fears had been temporarily allayed when it was agreed that Thompson's 
charter would be limited to civic action matters. 

Thompson provided Diem his initial "appreciation" (or, in U.S. terminology, 
"estimate of the situation") in October 1961. His assessment was well re- 
ceived by the President, who asked him to follow it up with a specific plan. 
Thompson's response, an outline plan for the pacification of the Delta area, 
was given to the President on 1 3 November. Thus, Thompson was in the process 
of articulating one potentially comprehensive strategic approach at the same 
time that the U.S. was deeply involved in fashioning a major new phase in 
U.S.-GVN relations in which major new U.S. aid would be tied to Diem's ac- 
ceptance of specified reforms and, inferentially, to his willingness to pursue 
some agreed, coordinated strategy. Thompson's plan was, in short, a potential 
rival to the American-advanced plans represented by the CIP and the geographi- 
cally phased MA AG plan of September 1961. 

In order to assess the similarities and differences between the U.S. plans and 
that advanced by the British Advisory Mission, it is necessary to summarize 
Thompson's argument and proposals. Like Taylor (with whom he talked and 
to whom he gave a copy of his initial "appreciation" at the latter's request), 
Thompson saw the VC objective to be one of political denouement by com- 
bined military and political action rather than a military takeover of the en- 
tire nation. Like McGarr and the other U.S. military advisors, he recognized 
the probability and danger of VC attempts to control the unpopulated areas 
and to use them both as a base from which to project an image of political 
strength and as secure areas from which (in the case of War Zone D., northeast 
of Saigon) to threaten the capital. But unlike the U.S. military advisors, Thomp- 
son viewed the primary threat to be to the political stabiliy of the populated 
rural areas. Consequently, he regarded McGarr's proposed initial operation in 
War Zone D to be a step in the wrong direction. 

The main government target, Thompson argued, should not be simply the 
destruction of VC forces. Rather, it should be to offer an attractive and con- 
structive alternative to communist appeals. This could only be done by em- 
phasizing national reconstruction and development in the populated rural areas. 
To do so would require extensive and stringent security measures, to be sure, 
but these measures required primarily police rather than regular military forces. 

140 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol II 

The police could establish a close rapport with the populace; the army could 
not. The army should have the mission to keep the VC off balance by mobile 
action in order to prevent insurgent attacks on the limited areas in which GVN 
would concentrate its initial pacification efforts. 

This line of argument was more fully developed in Thompson's draft plan 
for the pacification of the Delta area, given to President Diem on 1 1 November. 
The objective of the plan was to win loyalties rather than to kill insurgents. 
For that reason Thompson selected a populous area with relatively little VC 
main force activity. The thrust of his proposal was that "clear and hold" op- 
erations should replace "search and destroy" sweeps. ARVN might be used to 
protect the villages while the villages were organizing to protect themselves 
and mobile ARVN forces must be available to reinforce local defense units, 
but the process should be abandoned of "sweeping" through an area — and then 
leaving it. The peasants must be given the assurance of physical security so 
that economic and social improvements, the real object of the plan, could pro- 
ceed without interruption. 

The means by which the villagers would be protected was the "strategic 
hamlet," a lightly guarded village because it was — by definition — in a relatively 
low risk area. More heavily defended centers, called "defended hamlets" and 
involving more relocation, would be employed in areas under more VC in- 
fluence, particularly along the Cambodian border. 

To control this effort in the Delta, Thompson recommended that the ARVN 
III Corps Headquarters be reinforced with paramilitary and civil components, 
relieved of its responsibility for the area around and north of Saigon, and func- 
tion under the immediate supervision of the National Security Countil — pre- 
sided over by President Diem. The province chiefs, already under Diem's per- 
sonal direction, would be responsible on all emergency matters to the reinforced 
III Corps Headquarters (to be called the Combined Headquarters), but con- 
tinue as before with respect to routine administration. 

Thompson presented this Delta plan as a program of wide potential: 

... It should lead by stages to a reorganization of the government 
machinery for directing and coordinating all action against the communists 
and to the production of an overall strategic operational plan for the 
country as a whole defining responsibilities, tasks and priorities. At the 
same time it will lead to the establishment of a static security framework 
which can be developed eventually into a National Police force into which 
can be incorporated a single security intelligence organization for the di- 
rection and coordination of all intelligence activities against the com- 
munists. I agree with Your Excellency that it would be too disruptive at 
the present moment to try to achieve these immediately and that they 
should be developed gradually. Using a medical analogy, the remedy 
should be clinical rather than surgical. 


It is not difficult to imagine the shocked reaction to Thompson's proposals, 
especially in U.S. military circles. In fact, one need not imagine them; General 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 141 

McGarr has recorded a detailed rejoinder to Thompson's proposals. He was, to 
begin with, upset about the lack of prior coordination: 

Following Mr. Thompson's medical analogy ... we have the case of a 
doctor called in for consultation on a clinical case, actually performing an 
amputation without consulting the resident physician — and without being 
required to assume the overall responsibility for the patient. 

General McGarr's unhappiness with Thompson was not simply a case of in- 
jured feelings. He had four related categories of disagreements with the plan 
proposed by the British Advisory Mission. First, Thompson's recommended 
command arrangements, if adopted, would demolish the prospect of a unitary 
chain of command within ARVN, an objective toward which McGarr had been 
working for over a year. Additionally, the Thompson proposals would leave 
Diem as the ultimate manager of an operation dealing with only a portion (the 
Delta) of RVN. The elimination of practices such as this had been an explicit 
objective of the entire U.S. advisory effort for a long time. 

Second, the proposed priority in the Delta clashed with McGarr's priorities 
which placed War Zone D first, the area around Saigon second, and the Delta 
third. There was a lack of unanimity among the U.S. advisors about the relative 
importance of the War Zone D operation but the military in particular, were 
looking for an important operation to help the (hopefully) revitalized ARVN 
demonstrate its offensive spirit and mobile capabilities. This desire gave rise to 
the third and fourth objections — or fears. 

The "static security framework" in the villages to which Thompson referred 
struck General McGarr as an unwarranted downgrading of the need for a size- 
able conventional military force to play an important role in pacification. Thomp- 
son's stated desire to emphasize police forces in lieu of regular military forces 
was regarded by the U.S. military advisory chief as unrealistic — a transferral of 
Malayan experience to a locale in which the existing tools of policy were very 

Related to this objection was a final set of disagreements. Thompson had 
wanted to go slowly and to let a new GVN organization grow from the effort. 
The U.S. military advisory chief also wanted to go slowly — but not that slowly. 
Not only would the Viet Cong not wait, it was simply unsound policy not to use 
the tools at hand. It would not do to reduce the ARVN and increase police 
forces while the VC continued their successes. It was necessary, in sum, to act 
in a limited area but to act quickly. Thompson's recommendations did not 
look to quick action, emphasized the wrong area, were designed to emphasize 
the wrong operational agency, and proposed unacceptable command lines. 

It is important to note that in spite of these explicit disagreements there were 
broad areas of apparent agreement between Thompson and his U.S. counter- 
parts. {Apparent, because the "areas of agreement" concealed differences, too.) 
The U.S MAAG was amenable to the development of strategic hamlets, General 
McGarr claimed. Indeed, MAAG's long, diffuse doctrinal "handbook" for ad- 
visors in the field did devote three pages — without any particular emphasis — 
to the "secure village concept." MAAG did not stress the centrality of strategic 
hamlets per se, but neither did Thompson. Strategic hamlets were to Thompson 
a way station enroute to his real objective — winning the loyalty of the rural 
peasants. This was apparently compatible with the sequential steps to pacifica- 
tion outlined in MAAG's own Geographically Phased Counterinsurgency Plan. 
If the competing approaches of the U.S. and British advisors had not been made 

142 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

compatible, there was, at least, some agreed ground from which to launch 
the effort to make them compatible. 


That such ground existed was fortunate, for Thompson's evolutionary plan 
was not only finding a warm reception at the Presidential Palace, it was also 
winning an attentive ear in Washington. As already mentioned, Thompson 
talked with General Taylor during the latter's October 1961 mission to Saigon 
and provided Taylor a copy of the initial British "appreciation." Copies of the 
Thompson memorandum on the Delta were also forwarded to Taylor at the 
latter's request. Then in January 1962, Thompson, again responding to Taylor's 
request, sent the latter a long letter outlining his views. In less than a month, 
General Taylor could present to President Kennedy a plan entitled "A Stra- 
tegic Concept for South Vietnam" by Roger Hilsman which was an unabashed 
restatement of most of Thompson's major points and toward which President 
Kennedy had, not incidentally, already expressed a favorable disposition. 

Hilsman's "strategic concept" avowedly flowed from three basic principles: 
that the problem in Vietnam presented by the VC was political rather than 
military in its essence; that an effective counterinsurgency plan must provide 
the people and villages with protection and physical security; and that counter 
guerrilla forces must adopt the same tactics as those used by the guerrilla him- 

To translate these principles into operational reality, Hilsman called for 
"strategic villages" and "defended villages" a la Thompson, with first priority 
to the most populous areas; i.e., the Delta and in the vicinity of Hue. ARVN 
would, much as in Thompson's proposal, secure the initial effort, when neces- 
sary, and be employed to keep the VC off balance in those areas already under 
Viet Cong control. The plan envisaged a three-phase process by which GVN 
control would progressively be expanded from the least heavily VC-penetrated 
provinces with large populations (phase I), into the more heavily penetrated 
population centers (phase II), and finally into the areas along the Laotian and 
Cambodian borders (phase III). Hilsman eschewed use of the "oil spot" anal- 
ogy but the process and rationale he put forth were the same. His plan moved 
"strategic villages" to a place of prominence greater than that in Thompson's 
Delta plan and far in excess of the offhanded acceptance which had thus far 
been afforded them by U.S. military advisors. Strategic hamlets were not the 
heart of the Hilsman plan — civic action was that — but they were the symbol, 
the easily recognizable, easily grasped initial step by which GVN could begin, 
following Hilsman's second principle, to "provide the people and the villages 
with protection and physical security." 


Thompson's basic ideas were gaining wide dissemination at the highest level 
within the U.S. government in early 1962. What of his relations with the U.S. 
MAAG in Saigon? These had been significantly improved as the result of a 
meeting between Thompson, Ambassador Nolting, and British Ambassador 
Hohler. Thompson agreed to revise his paper so as to remove the objection to 
his proposed command arrangements. Ambassador Nolting reported that 
Thompson was now working "closely and amicably" with MAAG. This took 
care of one of McGarr's objections. Thompson had apparently decided, too, to 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 143 

allow the issue to drop for the time being of police primacy in pacification 
vis-a-vis ARVN. It was not, after all, a change that could be made quickly; 
President Diem was convinced that some start was needed to save his adminis- 
tration. That had been his reason, after all, in reluctantly inviting increased 
American participation in the war. 

Secretary McNamara played an important role in disposing of still another 
issue in dispute — that of where to begin. In mid-December 1961, after President 
Kennedy had decided to adopt essentially all of General Taylor's November 
recommendations except the introduction of major U.S. forces in Vietnam, 
Secretary McNamara met in Honolulu with the U.S. principals in Viet- 
nam to discuss future plans. A central question was that of what could be 
done in the short term future. The Secretary of Defense made it clear that 
RVN had "number one priority." McNamara urged concentration on one 
province: "I'll guarantee it (the money and equipment) provided you have a 
plan based on one province. Take one place, sweep it and hold it in a plan." Or, 
put another way, let us demonstrate that in some place, in some way, we can 
achieve demonstrable gains. 

General McGarr, immediately upon his return to Saigon, wrote to Secretary 
Thuan and passed on this proposal: 

I would like to suggest that you may wish to set aside one specific area, 
say a province, and use it as a "test area," in establishing this type "paci- 
fication infrastructure." My thinking is that all the various elements of 
this anti-VC groundwork be designated immediately by your government 
and trained as a team or teams for the actual reoccupation and holding 
of the designated communist infiltrated area when it has been cleared by 
RVNAF military action. 

Such teams would embrace, McGarr suggested, police, intelligence, financial, 
psychological, agricultural, medical, civic action, and civil political functions. 



GVN did indeed have a province in mind. It was not a Delta province, how- 
ever. Nor was it a province relatively secure from VC infiltration. Quite to the 
contrary, Binh Duong Province, extending north and northwest of Saigon, had 
been heavily infiltrated. Its main communications axis (National Highway 13, 
extending northward from Saigon into Cambodia) sliced directly between 
War Zone D and War Zone C. The province was crossed by important routes 
of communications, liaison, and supply between two insurgent redoubts. Hardly 
the logical place to begin, one might say, but "logic" was being driven by events 
and desires more than by abstract reasoning. 

One desire was the widely held wish to do something concrete and productive 
as a symbol of U.S. determination and GVN vitality. Another desire was GVN's 
wish to commit the Americans to support of Diem's government on terms which 
would be in fact acceptable to that government and would — equally important 
— appear to be U.S. support for GVN-initiated actions. If one were Vietnamese 

144 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol II 

one might reason that Binh Duong was an area of unquestionable strategic 
importance — and one in which GVN had already initiated some pacification 
efforts. If the Americans wish to concentrate in one province and if they are 
willing to underwrite the effort with resources, why not begin in an important 
strategic area where work is already underway? 

GVN had initiated, in August 1961, a "Rural Reconstruction Campaign" in 
the Eastern Region of South Vietnam to secure the provinces of Tay Ninh, 
Binh Duong, and Phuoc Tuy. Most of the effort prior to December 1961 had 
been concentrated in the Cu Chi District of Binh Duong. Xom Hue Hamlet of 
Tan An Hoi was, during December, in the process of being fortified as a stra- 
tegic hamlet. General McGarr was under the impression that "considerable 
progress" had already been made in these three provinces in the establishment 
of the GVN village level activities so necessary to winning popular support. 

In mid-January General McGarr met (just prior to his departure for Hono- 
lulu) with President Diem and Secretary Thuan to discuss pacification plans. 
As McGarr told Secretary McNamara, Diem stressed that the MAAG-en- 
dorsed military operation in War Zone D might merely close the string on an 
empty bag. Such a failure would be detrimental to ARVN morale. Besides, the 
President observed echoing Thompson, "sweeps" solved nothing; the problem 
was to hold an area and to separate the VC from the rest of the populace. 
Diem preferred a concentrated effort in Binh Duong, a heavily infiltrated 
province, close to Saigon, of great strategic importance, and in which only 
10 of 46 villages were under GVN control — but in which the groundwork for 
a sound government infrastructure had already been laid. 

The discussions at the Secretary of Defense's Conference in Honolulu turned 
on whether or not the War Zone D operation offered more hope for a concrete 
gain than a "single province" pacification scheme. McNamara concluded that 
it did not. General McGarr dissented mildly from the selection of Binh Duong. 
He would have favored Phuoc Tuy (where U.S. troops were scheduled to land 
if a decision were ever made to commit them.) But Binh Duong was GVN's 
plan and the "limited partners" finally agreed to back Diem's preferred attempt. 
Thus, the U.S. came to a roundabout decision to support as a "test" of what 
would later be called the "strategic hamlet program" an operation about whose 
details they knew little, in an area that all recognized to be difficult, because 
it allegedly represented a long-sought example of GVN initiative in planning 
and civil-military preparation. Much of the public image of the strategic ham- 
let program was to be established by this operation, as it turned out. Its name 
was "Operation Sunrise." But it was not — U.S. desires to the contrary — the 
only strategic hamlet effort to be carried forward during this period. It was 
only one of several — and several grew very quickly into many. 


It has already been suggested that President Diem responded with some 
enthusiasm to the early proposals from Thompson's British Advisory Mission. 
In mid-February 1962, President Diem approved orally Thompson's "Delta 
Pacification Plan" and said he would like to see it executed without delay. 
Earlier, on 3 February, he had created by presidential decree the Inter-Minis- 
terial Committee for Strategic Hamlets (IMCSH), comprising the heads of 
various ministries (Defense, Interior, Education, Civic Action, Rural Affairs, 
etc.). The IMCSH was, as its membership indicates, a coordinating body 
designed to give national direction and guidance to the program. Its importance 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 145 

is not in its work — for it apparently did very little — but as an indicator of 
Diem's early 1962 thinking of strategic hamlets as a national program and of 
the central role which his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, would play in this 

Nhu was the real driving force behind GVN's uneven but discernible move- 
ment toward adoption of the strategic hamlet theme as a unifying concept in 
its pacification efforts. In the early period under discussion he masked his 
central role, however. He was not announced as the Chairman of the IMCSH 
(nobody was), but the committee was responsible to him. He did not, however, 
lead it actively. As two American observers remarked at the time, "Nhu seems 
to have consulted the committee seldom and to have shared his policy-making 
power with it even less frequently." 


But although brother Nhu was behind the scenes in late 1961 and early 
1962, an occasional fleeting glimpse of his thinking and the direction in which 
he was heading has still managed to show through. A CIA report from Saigon 
summarized Nhu's instructions to a dozen province chiefs from the Delta in a 
meeting held on 14 December 1961. Primary emphasis was to be placed on 
the strategic hamlet program, Nhu said, and this program was to be coupled 
with a "social revolution" against "Viet-Nam's three enemies: divisive forces, 
low standard of living, and communism." The CIA Task Force — Vietnam 
observed, in forwarding this report, that Nhu's "social revolution and strategic 
hamlets appear to be fuzzy concepts with little value in the fight against the 

No doubt these concepts seemed fuzzy at the end of 1961. But within an- 
other twelve months, as events would prove, they would be widely recognized 
as the twin spearheads of GVN's counterinsurgent effort, fuzzy or not. The 
strategic hamlet program would have broad support within the U.S. government 
and financial resources to underpin that support. The "social revolution" to 
which Nhu referred in December 1961 would be surfaced as Diem's "personal- 
ism" drive. The important thing for the present analysis is that all of the ex- 
pectations of the several participant groups — both U.S. and GVN — were 
identifiable by very early 1962 at the latest, and that the concept of the stra- 
tegic hamlet program in the broad sense had been fully adumbrated. The skele- 
ton — the rationale — was complete; the body — operational programs — had not 
yet taken form. Each group could, however, work toward construction of a 
slightly different body (and for differing reasons) and claim with some plausi- 
bility to be working from the same skeleton. 


Three somewhat different views may be categorized which are of interest to 
the present inquiry: those of the U.S. military advisors, of the U.S. political 
leadership, and of the Diem government's leaders. Such generalizations are 
admittedly risky and easily overdrawn; there were, of course, differences be- 
tween the perceptions and expectations of, say, the U.S. military advisors. For 
example, those farthest from Saigon tended to be less patient — with Diem and in 
expecting results — than were those closer to the area of operations. Still, dis- 

146 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V 'ol. II 

cernible differences of outlook and expectations may be said to represent the 
prevailing views in each of these three groups. 


The U.S. military advisors mistrusted arguments which stressed the Vietna- 
mese struggle as essentially political rather than military. They were quite will- 
ing to concede that the struggle was multi-dimensional but they feared instinc- 
tively any line of reasoning which might appear to argue that military considera- 
tions were relatively unimportant in Vietnam. So, too, they were wary of 
schemes which might lead ARVN to perpetuate its defensive tactical stance. 
Both dangers were present in the strategic hamlet program. The same military 
advisors were more forceful than others in stressing the need for the Diem 
regime to rationalize its command arrangements and to plan comprehensively 
and in detail from the highest to lowest levels. Their operational interest con- 
centrated on making ARVN not just more mobile but more aggressive. Their 
creed, developed through years of experience and training (or vicarious ex- 
perience) was to "close with and destroy the enemy." One could expect them, 
then, to be more than willing to turn over the job of static defense to the CDC 
and CG at the earliest opportunity, to keep a weather eye out for opportunities 
to engage major VC formations in decisive battle, and to chafe under the pain- 
fully slow evolutionary process which was implicit even in their own 1961 geo- 
graphically phased plan. 


The U.S. political leadership, and to varying degrees the leaders in the Sai- 
gon Embassy and in USOM, were more attuned to the political problems — both 
with respect to GVN-U.S. relations and to the problem of winning broad sup- 
port among the Vietnamese for the Diem administration. This made members 
of this group inherently more sympathetic to proposals such as the Thompson 
plan for the Delta than they were, for instance, to increasing ARVN's size and 
capabilities. They found compelling the logic of analyses such as Hilsman's 
which cut to the political root rather than treating only the military symptoms. 
One suspects — though documentation would never be found to support it — 
that they were attracted by an argument which did suggest some hope for 
"demilitarizing" the war, de-emphasizing U.S. operational participation, and in- 
creasing GVN's ability to solve its own internal problems using primarily its own 
human resources. 


Ngo Dinh Diem's perspective and expectations were the most different of all. 
U.S. groups differed in degree; Diem's expectations were different in kind. He 
wanted, first of all, to obtain unequivocal U.S. support, not just to his nation 
but to his administration. It was essential, in his eyes, that this support not com- 
promise his authority or Vietnamese sovereignty. He did not want to give 
credence to communist claims that he was a puppet of the U.S., on one hand, 
or concentrate the coercive instruments of power in the hand of potential an- 
tagonists, on the other. 

A revealing assessment of Diem's frame of mind is provided by Ambassador 
Nolting. Diem invited increased U.S. aid and U.S. participation because he 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 147 

feared that, especially with an impending settlement in Laos, South Vietnam 
would come under increasing communist pressures. If Diem's government could 
not win over these pressures — and Diem feared it could not — it had only the 
choice of going down fighting or of being overthrown by a coup. Thus, in re- 
questing additional U.S. help, Diem had "adopted an expedient which runs 
against his own convictions, and he is apparently willing to accept the attendant 
diminution of his own stature as an independent and self-reliant national 

But when Ambassador Nolting presented to Diem the U.S. quid pro quo for 
its "limited partnership," this apparent acceptance of decreased stature and in- 
dependence suddenly seemed less apparent. Then, as Nolting reported, President 
Diem feared the reaction even among his own cabinet aides. Secretary Thuan, 
in whom Diem did confide, said that the President was brooding over the fact 
that the U.S. was asking great concessions of GVN in the realm of its sov- 
ereignty in exchange for little additional help. Diem argued that U.S. influence 
over his government, once it was known, would play directly into the com- 
munists' hands. The first priority task, he added, was to give the people security, 
not to make the government more popular. To try it the other way around was 
to place the cart before the horse. 

Diem saw himself caught in a dilemma in which he was doomed if he did not 
get outside assistance and doomed if he got it only at the price of surrendering 
his independence. To him the trick was to get the U.S. committed without 
surrendering his independence. One possible solution lay in getting U.S. material 
aid for a program that would be almost wholly GVN-implemented: The stra- 
tegic hamlet program offered a convenient vehicle for this purpose and one 
which was also appealing for other reasons, It put achieving security before 
winning loyalty — in an operational context in which it was difficult to differen- 
tiate between security for the rural populace and control of that populace, since 
many of the actions to achieve one were almost identical to the acts to real- 
ize the other. 


The U.S., for its part, was asking Diem to forego independence by accepting 
the wisdom of the American recommendations for reform. The central ques- 
tion was whether he would — or could — do so. Among those who responded 
to this question in the negative, J. Kenneth Galbraith was most trenchant: 

In my completely considered view . . . Diem will not reform either 
administratively or politically in any effective way. That is because he 
cannot. It is politically naive to expect it. He senses that he cannot let 
power go because he would be thrown out. 

The U.S. decided that Diem could make meaningful reforms and that he 
would do so — or at least it decided that it was likely enough that he would do 
so and that support for his administration constituted the best available policy 


The differences in perspectives and expectations outlined above are impor- 
tant in their own right. They loom even larger, however, when one considers 
the difficulty of assessing progress in the program about to be undertaken. 

148 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol II 

These groups were about to embark upon a long, arduous joint voyage. Their 
only chart had never been to sea. This was the newly-articulated and imper- 
fectly understood doctrine of counterinsurgency which stressed the interaction 
and interdependence of political, military, social, and psychological factors. It 
posited the necessity for certain actions to follow immediately and successfully 
behind others in order for the process of pacification to succeed. Above all — 
and this point cannot be overstressed — while this doctrine recognized the need 
for both the carrot and the stick (for coercive control and appealing programs) 
it made gaining broad popular acceptance the single ultimate criterion of 
success. Neither kill ratios nor construction rates nor the frequency of incidents 
was conclusive, yet these were all indicators applicable to phases within the larger 
process. The gains of doing well in one phase, however, could be wiped out by 
inactivity or mistakes in a subsequent phase. It was, in short, very difficult to 
know how well one was doing until one was done. 



Before examining the quality of execution of the operational programs for 
which some detailed record is available it will be useful to outline the process 
by which the strategic hamlet program became — by late 19*62 — a comprehen- 
sive national program embodying the major effort of GVN in pacification. 

"Operation Sunrise" in Binh Duong Province was launched on 22 March 
1962 in what was initially called the "Ben Cat Project." The Delta project, how- 
ever, languished in a "planning stage" until May, when it first became known 
that Diem was considering incorporating it into the Strategic Hamlet Program. 
By August the IMCSH proposed a priority plan for the construction of strategic 
hamlets on a nation-wide basis. Later the same month, the U.S. Inter-Agency 
Committee for Province Rehabilitation concurred in this plan (with minor res- 
ervations) as a basis for planning and utilization of U.S. assistance. By October, 
the Diem government had made the Strategic Hamlet Program the explicit 
focus and unifying concept of its pacification effort. The government-controlled 
Times of Viet Nam devoted an entire issue to "1962: The Year of Strategic 
Hamlets." Ngo Dinh Nhu was unveiled as the "architect and prime mover" of 
the program which was the Vietnamese answer to communist strategy. As Nhu 
proclaimed: "Strategic hamlets seek to assure the security of the people in order 
that the success of the political, social, and military revolution might be assured 
by the enthusiastic movement of solidarity and self-sufficiency." President 
Diem had earlier put the same thought to an American visitor in clearer words: 

The importance of the strategic hamlets goes beyond the concept of 
hamlet self defense. They are a means to institute basic democracy in 
Vietnam. Through the Strategic Hamlet Program, the government intends 
to give back to the hamlet the right of self-government with its own 
charter and system of community law. This will realize the ideas of the 
constitution on a local scale which the people can understand. 

By this time, too, influential American circles regarded the Strategic Hamlet 
Program as the shorthand designation for a process which represented a sensible 
and sound GVN effort. Roger Hilsman had said so in February to President 
Kennedy, and found the latter highly receptive. He continued to say so. As he 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 149 

advised Assistant Secretary of State Averell Harriman in late 1962, "The gov- 
ernment of Vietnam has finally developed, and is now acting upon, an effective 
strategic concept." [Doc. 119] Even so lukewarm an enthusiast as the CJCS, 
General Lyman L. Lemnitzer could report that ". . . the Strategic Hamlet 
Program promises solid benefits, and may well be the vital key to success of the 
pacification program." 

The public record also shows early support from high U.S. officials for the 
Strategic Hamlet Program and recognition of its central role in GVN's pacifi- 
cation campaign. Speaking in late April 1962, Under Secretary of State George 
W. Ball, commented favorably in the progressive development of strategic ham- 
lets throughout RVN as a method of combating insurgency and as a means of 
bringing the entire nation "under control of the government." Secretary 
McNamara told members of the press, upon his return to Washington from a 
Pacific meeting in July 1962, that the Strategic Hamlet Program was the "back- 
bone of President Diem's program for countering subversion directed against 
his state." 

It is reasonable to conclude from the evidence that official U.S. awareness 
kept abreast of Diem's progressive adoption of the Strategic Hamlet Program as 
the "unifying concept" in his counterinsurgent effort. The same officials were 
constantly bombarded by a series of reports from a variety of sources describing 
the progress of the hamlet program and assessing its efficacy. 


The first operational effort in which the U.S. had a hand, "Operation Sun- 
rise," got under way in Binh Duong Province on 22 March 1962 when work 
commenced on Ben Tuong, the first of five hamlets to be constructed for re- 
located peasants in the Ben Cat District in and around the Lai Khe rubber 
plantation. Phase I of the operation — the military clearing phase — was con- 
ducted by forces of the 5th ARVN Division reinforced by ranger companies, a 
reconnaissance company, two reinforced CG companies, and a psychological 
warfare company. The Viet Cong simply melted into the jungles. 

With the Viet Cong out of the way — at least for the time being — the 
relocation and construction of the new hamlet commenced. The new program 
got off to a bad start. The government was able to persuade only seventy families 
to volunteer for resettlement. The 135 other families in the half dozen settle- 
ments were herded forcibly from their homes. Little of the $300,000 in local 
currency provided by USOM had reached the peasants; the money was being 
withheld until the resettled families indicated they would not bolt the new ham- 
let. Some of them came with most of their meager belongings. Others had 
little but the clothes on their backs. Their old dwellings — and many of their 
possessions — were burned behind them. Only 120 males of an age to bear 
arms were found among the more than 200 families — indicating very clearly 
that a large number had gone over to the VC, whether by choice or as a result 
of intimidation. 


Progress in Binh Duong continued at a steady pace, beset by difficulties. By 
midsummer 2900 persons had been regrouped into three strategic hamlets. 
Elsewhere, the pace quickened. Although the Delta Plan, as a coordinated effort, 

150 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V oh II 

had not been implemented by the summer of 1962, Secretary McNamara found 
in May an aggressive effort under way without U.S. help near Ca Mao: 

Here the commander of the 31st Infantry Regiment had gone into an 
area 95% controlled by the VC, declared martial law, and resettled 11,000 
people (some under duress) in 9 strategic hamlets, while fighting the VC 
wherever he found them. Since inception of the program, none of his vil- 
lages have been attacked, and the freedom from VC taxation (extortion) is 
proving most appealing to the people. It is the commander's hope (doubt- 
less optimistic) that he will be able to turn the whole area over to the 
civil guard and self defense corps within 6 months. 

These resettlement efforts in areas which had been under VC domination 
were not the extent of the early hamlet "program," however. Many existing 
hamlets and villages were "fortified" in one degree or another early in 1962 
following no discernible pattern. This appears to have been the natural product 
of the varied response to Nhu's injunction to emphasize strategic hamlets. In 
April, the GVN Ministry of the Interior informed the U.S. that 1300 such 
hamlets were already completed. "Operation Sunrise" had by this time been 
broadened to embrace efforts in several provinces. Several other Strategic Ham- 
let Programs were begun: "Operation Hai Yen II" (Sea Swallow) in Phu Yen 
Province with a goal of 281 hamlets, 157 of which were reported as completed 
within two months: "Operation Dang Tien" (Let's go) in Binh Dinh Province 
with a goal of 328 strategic hamlets in its first year; and "Operation Phuong 
Hoang" (Royal Phoenix) in Quang Nai Province with a goal of 125 strategic 
hamlets by the end of 1962. 


The GVN drew all of the partialistic programs together in its August 1962 
national priority plan mentioned earlier. The nation was divided into four 
priority zones. First priority was assigned to the eleven provinces around Saigon. 
This included essentially the area of the Thompson Delta plan plus the original 
area of "Operation Sunrise" plus Gia Dinh Province. Priorities within each 
zone were further specified. Within the zone of first national priority, for 
example, the provinces of Vinh Long, Long An, and Phuoc Try were assigned 
the highest priority; Binh Duong — where operations were already in progress 
— was given priority three. By the end of the summer of 1962 GVN claimed 
that 3,225 of the planned 11,316 hamlets had already been completed and 
that over 33 percent of the nation's total population was already living in com- 
pleted hamlets. 

October 1962, when Diem made the Strategic Hamlet Program the avowed 
focus of his counterinsurgent campaign, marks the second watershed in the 
development and implementation of the program. The first such watershed had 
been the consensus, on the potential value of such a program, which had been 
developed at the end of 1961 and early 1962. There would be no others until the 
program died with Diem. 


The effect of the GVN's concentration on strategic hamlets was to make 
U.S. assessments focus on several sub-aspects of the problem. Attention tended 
to be directed toward how well hamlets were being fortified and whether or not 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 151 


As of 30 September 1962 * 



Eastern Provinces 
Western Provinces 


Central Lowlands 

High Plateau 







Hamlets Under 



Population in 



— Percentage of planned hamlets completed 28.49% 

— Percentage of total population in completed hamlets .... 33.39% 

* Adapted from The Times of Vietnam, 28 October 1962, p. 17. 

the implementation phase was well managed; i.e., whether peasants were paid 
for their labor, reimbursed for their losses, and given adequate opportunity to 
attend their crops. Conversely, attention was directed away from the difficult- 
to-assess question of whether the follow-up actions to hamlet security were tak- 
ing place — the actions which would convert the peasantry from apathy (if not 
opposition) to identification with their central government. 

This focusing on details which diverted attention from the ultimate objec- 
tive took the form of reports, primarily statistical, which set forth the construc- 
tion rate for strategic hamlets, the incident rate of VC activities, and the geo- 
graphical areas in which GVN control was and was not in the ascendancy. 
These "specifics" were coupled to generalized assessments which almost invar- 
iably pointed to shortcomings in GVN's execution of the program. The short- 
comings, however, were treated as problems in efficient management and opera- 
tional organization; the ineluctability of increased control (or security) lead- 
ing somehow to popular identification by a process akin to the economic assump- 
tion of "flotation to stability through development" went unchallenged as a basic 
assumption. Critics pointed to needed improvements; the question of whether 
or not these could be accomplished, or why, almost never was raised. 

"Operation Sunrise," for example, was criticized in some detail by the US 
MAAG. Much better planning and coordination was needed in order to 
relocate effectively: Aerial surveys were necessary to pinpoint the number of 
families to be relocated; unanticipated expenditures needed to be provided 
for; preparation of sites should begin before the peasants were moved; and 
GVN resource commitments should be carefully checked by U.S. advisors at 

152 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

all levels. There was no discussion of the vulnerability of the strategic hamlets 
to VC infiltration (as against VC attacks) or of the subsequent steps to winning 
support. That was not, one may assume, the military's prime concern. 

Political observers who examined this follow-on aspect were cautiously 

The strategic hamlet program is the heart of our effort and deserves 
top priority. While it has not — and probably will not — bring democracy to 
rural Vietnam, it provides truly local administration for the first time. 
Coupled with measures to increase rice production and farmer income, 
these local administrations can work a revolution in rural Vietnam. 

The same tone was reflected in Michael Forrestal's report to President Kennedy 
in February 1963 following his visit to Vietnam with Roger Hilsman [Doc. 120]. 
The visitors found Ambassador Nolting and his deputy, William C. Trueheart, 
optimistic about the results which the program might achieve once the ma- 
terials for it, then just beginning to come in, reached full volume. 

The Department of Defense was devoting considerable effort to insuring that 
these materials did reach Vietnam in, the quantities needed and in timely fash- 
ion. Secretary McNamara had been stuck with this problem during his May 1962 
visit to "Operation Sunrise." He saw especially a need to program SDC, CG, and 
Youth Corps training so that it would match the role of hamlet building and 
to insure the provision of proper communications for warning purposes. A 
substantial amount of the MAAG-DoD effort subsequently went into pro- 
gramming. The Agency for International Development had agreed to fund the 
"Strategic Hamlet Kits" (building materials, barbed wire and stakes, light 
weapons, ammunition, and communication equipment), but in August 1962 
it demurred, stating that supporting assistance funds in the MAP were inade- 
quate for the purpose. Secretary McNamara agreed to undertake the financing 
for 1500 kits (13 million) but asked if the additional 3500 kits requested were 
really necessary and, if so, on what delivery schedule. The target levels and 
delivery dates underwent more or less continuous revision from then until the 
question became irrelevant in late 1963. A separate but related effort went into 
expediting the procurement, delivery, and installation of radios in the strategic 
hamlets so that each would have the capability to sound the alarm and request 
the employment of mobile reserves when attacked. 


All of these "program management" activities were based on the unstated 
assumption that the strategic hamlet program would lead to effective pacifica- 
tion if only Diem would make it work. As it turned out, there was some dis- 
agreement between what the U.S. considered needed to be done and what Pres- 
ident Diem knew very well he was doing. He was using the Strategic Hamlet 
Program to carry forward his "personalist philosophy." As brother Nhu visibly 
took the reins controlling the program and began to solidify control over the 
Youth Corps it became increasingly clear that Diem was emphasizing govern- 
ment control of the peasantry at the expense (at least in U.S. eyes) of pacifica- 

As awareness in Washington increased that strategic hamlets could serve 
several purposes, there developed also a divergent interpretation of whether or 
not the GVN was "winning the war." When General Krulak, SACSA, and 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 153 

Joseph Mendenhall, an ex-counselor in Saigon then at State, visited RVN in 
September 1963, President Kennedy wryly asked upon receiving their con- 
flicting reports, "You two did visit the same country, didn't you?" The answer 
is that they had, but the general stressed that the military war was going well 
while the diplomat asserted that the political war was being lost. The argument 
was not, it should be stressed, one between the generals and the diplomats; 
experienced diplomats disagreed fundamentally with Mendenhall. The dis- 
agreement was between those who pointed to signs of progress and those who 
held up examples of poor planning, corruption, and alienation of the peasants 
whose loyalty was the object of the exercise. Criticisms — frequently ac- 
companied by counterbalancing assertions that "limited progress" was being 
achieved — mentioned corvee labor, GVN failures to reimburse the farmers for 
losses due to resettlement, the dishonesty of some officials, and Diem's stress on 
exhortations rather than on the provision of desirable social services. 

Those who emphasized that the program was showing real progress — 
usually with a caveat or two that there was considerable room for improvement 
— stressed statistical evidence to portray the exponential increase in strategic 
hamlet construction (Table 2), the declining trend in Viet Cong-initiated inci- 
dents (Table 3), the rise in VC defections (Table 4), and the slow but steady 
increase in GVN control of rural areas (Table 5) . 

The JCS observation with respect to the establishment of strategic hamlets, 
for instance, was that since fewer than two tenths of one percent (0.2% ) of 
them had been overrun by the VC, "The Vietnamese people must surely be 
finding in them a measure of the tranquility which they seek." 

RGK Thompson later claimed that the very absence of attacks was an indi- 
cator that the VC had succeeded in infiltrating the hamlets. The point is not 
Thompson's prescience but the difficulty of reasoned assessment to which this 
analysis has already pointed. The U.S. course, in the face of these cautiously 
optimistic and hopefully pessimistic reports, was to continue its established 
program of material support coupled with attempts to influence Diem to make 
desired changes. 



The obvious U.S. alternatives, by mid- 1963, remained the same as they were 
in late 1961: (1) to induce changes within the Strategic Hamlet Program 
(among other) by convincing Diem to make such changes; (2) to allow Diem 
to run things his own way and hope for the best; and (3) to find an alternative 
to President Diem. The U.S. continued to pursue the first course; Diem insisted 
increasingly on the second. Finally, due to pressures from areas other than the 
Strategic Hamlet Program, the U.S. pursued the third alternative. The Strategic 
Hamlet Program, in the event, died with its sponsors. 

Far from becoming more reasonable, in U.S. eyes, President Diem by mid- 
1963 had become more intractable. He insisted, for example, that the U.S. cease 
to have an operational voice in the Strategic Hamlet Program. The multiplica- 
tion of U.S. advisors at many levels, he claimed, was the source of friction and 
dissension. The remedy was to remove the advisors. The essence of Diem's posi- 
tion was that Taylor's "limited partnership" would not work. 

Other U.S. missions visited Vietnam to assess the conduct of the war. The 



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158 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

result was much the same as reported by Krulak and Mendenhall. This was 
essentially the findings of the McNamara-Taylor mission in September: the 
military campaign is progressing, political disaffection is growing; U.S. leverage 
is questionable. [Doc. 142] 


The rest may be summarized: the U.S. attempted to insist on a program with 
more emphasis on broad appeal rather than control; Diem, finding himself 
increasingly embroiled in the Buddhist controversy, increased repressive 
measures; a coup toppled the Diem regime on 1 November; the deposed Pres- 
ident and his brother Nhu, "architect of the Strategic Hamlet Program," were 
killed. The Strategic Hamlet Program — or at least the program under that name 
which they had made the unifying theme of their counterinsurgent effort — 
died with them. The inhabitants who had wanted to leave the hamlets did so in 
the absence of an effective government. The VC took advantage of the con- 
fusion to attack and overrun others. Some offered little or no resistance. The 
ruling junta attempted to resuscitate the program as "New Life Hamlets" early 
in 1964, but the failures of the past provided a poor psychological basis upon 
which to base hopes for the future. 


The dominant U.S. view has been that the Strategic Hamlet Program failed 
because of over-expansion and the establishment of hamlets in basically in- 
secure areas. That there was overexpansion and the establishment of many 
poorly defended hamlets is not questioned. This contributed, beyond doubt, to 
the failure of the program. But this view finesses the problem of the process for 
which the strategic hamlets were but the tangible symbol. The present analysis 
has sought to emphasize both the essentially political nature of the objective 
of the Strategic Hamlet Program and the political nature of the context in which 
the process evolved — of expectations, bargaining, and attempts to exert 
influence on other participants in policy formulation and implementation. In 
this context it is the U.S. inability to exert leverage on President Diem (or 
Diem's inability to reform) that emerges as the principal cause of failure. 

Yet, both of these attempts to pinpoint the reasons why the strategic hamlet 
program did not succeed fail to get at another whole issue: the validity of that 
body of writings which one may call the theory and doctrine of counterinsur- 
gency. Neither the military nor the political aspects of this doctrine can be up- 
held (or proved false) by an examination of the Strategic Hamlet Program. 
Quite aside from whether or not Diem was able to broaden the program's 
appeal to the peasantry, what would have occurred had he made a determined 
and sustained effort to do so? Would this have led in some more-or-less direct 
way to stability or to even greater dissatisfaction? We simply do not know. The 
question is as unanswerable as whether the appetite grows with the eating or 
is satisfied by it. The contention here is that claims of mismanagement are not 
sufficient to conclude that better management would necessarily have produced 
the desired results. 

In the military sphere the unanswerable questions are different. It is said 
that the military phase of the Strategic Hamlet Program progressed reasonably 
well in many areas; the failure was in the political end of the process. But 
did the military actions succeed? Might failures to develop adequate intelligence 

The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 159 

and to weed out VC infrastructure in these hamlets not as easily be attributable 
to the fact that the inhabitants knew they were not really safe from VC intimi- 
dation and reprisals? Does the analogy to an "oil spot" have operational mean- 
ing when small bands can carry out hit and run raids or when many small 
bands can concentrate in one location and achieve surprise? Where is the key 
to this vicious circle — or is there a key? 

In conclusion, while the abortive Strategic Hamlet Program of 1961-1963 
may teach one something, the available record does not permit one to conclude 
either that the program fell because of the failure of a given phase or that other 
phases were, in fact, adequate to the challenge. One may say that the program 
was doomed by poor execution and by the inability of the Ngo family to reform 
coupled with the inability of the U.S. to induce them to reform. The evidence 
does not warrant one to proceed further. 


3. Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 


A formal planning and budgetary process for the phased withdrawal of U.S. 
forces from Vietnam was begun amid the euphoria and optimism of July 1962, 
and was ended in the pessimism of March 1964. Initially, the specific objectives 
were: (1) to draw down U.S. military personnel then engaged in advisory, 
training, and support efforts from a FY 64 peak of 12,000 to a FY 68 bottom- 
ing out of 1,500 (just HQ, MAAG) ; and (2) to reduce MAP from a FY 64 
peak of $180 million to a FY 69 base of $40.8 million. South Vietnamese forces 
were to be trained to perform all the functions then being carried out by U.S. 
personnel. What the U.S.G. was actually trying to accomplish during this pe- 
riod can be described in either or both of two ways: (1) a real desire and at- 
tempt to extricate the U.S. from direct military involvement in the war and to 
make it a war which the GVN would have to learn to win, and (2) straight- 
forward contingency planning and the use of a political-managerial technique 
to slow down pressures for greater U.S. inputs. A blend of the wish embodied 
in the first explanation and the hard-headedness of the second seems plausible. 

Needless to say, the phase-out never came to pass. The Diem coup with the 
resulting political instability and deterioration of the military situation soon 
were to lead U.S. decision-makers to set aside this planning process. An os- 
tensible cut-back of 1000 men did take place in December 1963, but this was 
essentially an accounting exercise — and the U.S. force level prior to the reduc- 
tion had already reached 16,732 in October 1963. By December 1964, U.S. 
strength had risen to 23,000 and further deployments were on the way. 

What, then, did the whole phased-withdrawal exercise accomplish? It may 
have impeded demands for more men an dmoney, but this is doubtful. If the 
optimistic reports on the situation in SVN were to be believed, and they ap- 
parently were, little more would have been requested. It may have frightened 
the GVN, but it did not induce Diem or his successors to reform the political 
apparatus or make RVNAF fight harder. It may have contributed, however, to 
public charges about the Administration's credibility and over-optimism about 
the end of the conflict. Despite the carefully worded White House announcement 
of the phase-out policy on October 2, 1963, tentative Johnson Administration 
judgments came to be regarded by the public as firm predictions. While this 
announcement made clear that the U.S. effort would continue "until the in- 
surgency has been suppressed or until the national security forces of the GVN 
are capable of suppressing it," the public tended to focus on the prognosis which 
followed — "Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgment 
that the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 
1965. . . ." In August 1964, Mr. McNamara further explained the policy: "We 
have said — as a matter of fact, I say today — as our training missions are com- 
pleted, we will bring back the training forces." 

Quite apart from what was actually accomplished by the phase-out policy 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 161 

and the costs in terms of domestic political perceptions of Administration state- 
ments on Vietnam, there are some important lessons to be learned from this 
exercise. What was the U.S. rationale behind the policy? Was it sound, feasible, 
and consistent with statements of national objectives? By what policy and pro- 
grammatic means were we trying to bring about the desired results? Were these, 
in fact, the most appropriate and effective vehicles? How did the intelligence 
and reporting system in Vietnam help or hinder policy formulation? Why was 
not the Diem coup in its darkening aftermath grasped as the opportunity to re- 
examine policy and unambiguously to decide to phase out, or to do whatever 
was deemed necessary? 

The rationale behind the phased withdrawal policy was by and large intern- 
ally consistent and sensible. 

— To put Vietnam in the perspective of other U.S. world interests. Viet- 
nam, at this time, was not the focal point of attention in Washington; 
Berlin and Cuba were. Part of this exercise was to make clear that U.S. in- 
terests in Europe and in the western hemisphere came first. Even in terms 
of Southeast Asia itself, Laos, not Vietnam, was the central concern. So, 
the phase-out policy made the kind of sense that goes along with the struc- 
turing of priorities. 

— To avoid an open-ended Asian mainland land war. Even though vio- 
lated by U.S. involvement in the Korean war, this was a central tenet of 
U.S. national security policy and domestic politics. The notion of the bot- 
tomless Asian pit, the difference in outlook about a human life, were 
well understood. 

— To plan for the contingency that events might force withdrawal upon 
us. Seen in this light, the planning process was prudential preparation. 
— To treat the insurgency as fundamentally a Vietnamese matter, best 
solved by the Vietnamese themselves. Most U.S. decision-makers had 
well-developed doubts about the efficacy of using "white faced" soldiers 
to fight Asians. This view was invariably coupled publicly and privately 
with statements like this one made by Secretary McNamara: "I personally 
believe that this is a war that the Vietnamese must fight ... I don't be- 
lieve we can take on that combat task for them. I do believe we can carry 
out training. We can provide advice and logistical assistance." 
— To increase the pressure on the GVN to make the necessary reforms 
and to make RVNAF fight harder by making the extent and future of U.S. 
support a little more tenuous. This was explicitly stated in State's instructions 
to Ambassador Lodge on how to handle the White House statement of 
October, 1963: "Actions are designed to indicate to Diem Government our 
displeasure at its political policies and activities and to create significant 
uncertainty in that government and in key Vietnamese groups as to fu- 
ture intentions of United States." In other words, phased withdrawal was 
thought of as a bargaining counter with the GVN. 

— To put the lid on inevitable bureaucratic and political pressures for in- 
creased U.S. involvement and inputs into Vietnam. It was to be expected 
and anticipated that those intimately involved in the Vietnam problem 
would be wanting more U.S. resources to handle that problem. Pressures 
for greater effort, it was reasoned, eventually would come into play unless 
counteracted. What Secretary McNamara did was to force all theater justi- 
fications for force build-ups into tension with long-term phase-down plans. 
On 21 December, 1963, in a memo to the President after the Deim coup, 

162 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

Mr. McNamara urged holding the line: "U.S. resources and personnel can- 
not usefully be substantially increased. . . ." 

— To deal with international and domestic criticism and pressures. While 
Vietnam was not a front burner item, there were those who already had 
begun to question and offer non-consensus alternatives. During 1963, for 
example, both General de Gaulle and Senator Mansfield were strongly urg- 
ing the neutralization of Vietnam. 

It is difficult to sort out the relative importance of these varying rationales; 
all were important. Paramount, perhaps, were the desires to limit U.S. involve- 
ment, and to put pressure on the GVN for greater efforts. And, the rationales 
were all consistent with one another. But they did not appear as being wholly 
consistent with other statements of our national objectives in Southeast Asia. 
For example, on July 17, 1963, President Kennedy said: "We are not going to 
withdraw from [bringing about a stable government there, carrying on a strug- 
gle to maintain its national independence]. In my opinion, for us to withdraw 
from that effort would mean a collapse not only of South Vietnam, but South- 
east Asia." He added: "We can think of Vietnam as a piece of strategic real es- 
tate. It's on the corner of mainland Asia, across the East- West trade routes, and 
in a position that would make it an excellent base for further Communist ag- 
gression against the rest of free Asia." In a September 9, 1963 interview, the 
President stated: "I believe ['the domino theory']. I think that the struggle is 
close enough. China is so large, looms up high just beyond the frontiers, that if 
South Vietnam went, it would not only give them an improved geographic 
position for a guerrilla assault on Malaya, but would also give the impression 
that the wave of the future in Southeast Asia was China and the Communists." 
One could argue that such an unequivocally strong statement of strategic im- 
portance would not be consistent with any sort of phase-out proposal short of 
a clear-cut victory over the communists. Despite the caveats about it being es- 
sentially a South Vietnamese struggle, President Kennedy's statements were 
very strong. And, insofar as the U.S. was interested in greater leverage on the 
GVN, these statements tended to reduce U.S. bargaining power because of the 
explicit and vital nature of the commitment. 

The rationales behind the phased withdrawal policy were incorporated into 
a formal programming and planning process that began in July 1962 and ended 
on 27 March 1964. It was at the Honolulu Conference on 23 July 1962, the 
same day that the 14-nation neutralization declaration on Laos was formally 
signed, that the Secretary of Defense on guidance from the President put the 
planning machine in motion. Noting that "tremendous progress" had been 
made in South Vietnam and that it might be difficult to retain public support 
for U.S. operations in Vietnam indefinitely, Mr. McNamara directed that a 
comprehensive long range program be developed for building up SVN military 
capability and for phasing-out the U.S. role. He asked that the planners assume 
that it would require approximately three years, that is, the end of 1965, for the 
RVNAF to be trained to the point that it could cope with the VC. On 26 July, 
the JCS formally directed CINCPAC to develop a Comprehensive Plan for 
South Vietnam (CPSVN) in accordance with the Secretary's directives. Thus 
began an intricate, involved and sometimes arbitrary bargaining process, in- 
volving mainly MACV, the Joint Staff, and ISA. There were two main pegs 
that persisted throughout this process: MAP planning for the support and 
build-up of RVNAF, and draw-downs on U.S. advisory and training personnel. 

The first COMUSMACV CPSVN was floated on 19 January 1963. It en- 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 163 

visioned MAP for FY 1963-1964 at a total of $405 million. The total for FY 
1965-1968 was $673 million. The RVNAF force level was to peak in FY 64 at 
458,000 men. U.S. personnel in SVN were to drop from a high of 12.2 thou- 
sand in FY 65 to 5.9 thousand in FY 66, bottoming out in FY 68 at 1.5 thou- 
sand (Hq MAAG). No sooner was this first CPSVN cranked into the policy 
machinery than it conflicted with similar OSD/ISA planning. This conflict be- 
tween ISA/OSD guidance and COMUSMACV/Joint Staff planning was to be 
continued throughout the life of the CPSVN. 

Secretary McNamara opposed General Harkins version of the plan for a va- 
riety of reasons: (1) it programmed too many RVNAF than were trainable 
and supportable; (2) it involved weaponry that was too sophisticated; (3) it 
did not fully take account of the fact that if the insurgency came into control 
in FY 65 as anticipated, the U.S. MAP investment thereafter should be held at 
no more than $50 million per year; (4) the U.S. phaseout was too slow, and 
the RVNAF training had to be speeded up. In other words, Mr. McNamara 
wanted both a more rapid U.S. withdrawal of personnel, and a faster reduction 
in U.S. military/economic support. 

The Secretary's views prevailed. The embodiment of Mr. McNamara's desire 
to quicken the pace of phase-out planning was embodied first in a Model M 
plan prepared by the JCS and later in what came to be called the Accelerated 
Model Plan of the CPSVN. The Accelerated Plan provided for a rapid phase- 
out of the bulk of U.S. military personnel. It also provided for building up GVN 
forces at a faster pace, but at a more reduced scale. MAP costs for FY 1965- 
1969 totaled $399.4 million, or nearly $300 million lower than the original 

All of this planning began to take on a kind of absurd quality as the situation 
in Vietnam deteriorated drastically and visibly. Strangely, as a result of the 
public White House promise in October and the power of the wheels set in mo- 
tion, the U.S. did effect a 1000 man withdrawal in December of 1963. All the 
planning for phase-out, however, was either ignored or caught up in the new 
thinking of January to March 1964 that preceded NSAM 288. The thrust of 
this document was that greater U.S. support was needed in SVN. Mr. McNamara 
identified these measures as those that "will involve a limited increase in U.S. 
personnel and in direct Defense Department costs." He added: "More sig- 
nificantly they involve significant increases in Military Assistance Program 
costs. . . . ," plus "additional U.S. economic aid to support the increased GVN 
budget." On 27 March 1964, CINCPAC was instructed not to take any fur- 
ther action on the Accelerated Plan. Quickly, requests for more U.S. personnel 
poured into Washington. The planning process was over, but not forgotten. 
Secretary McNamara stated in his August 1964 testimony on the Tonkin Gulf 
crisis that even today "if our training missions are completed, we will bring back 
the training forces." 

While the phase-out policy was overtaken by the sinking after-effects of the 
Diem coup, it is important to understand that the vehicles chosen to effect that 
policy — MAP planning, RVNAF and U.S. force levels — were the right ones. 
They were programmatic and, therefore, concrete and visible. No better way 
could have been found to convince those in our own government and the lead- 
ers of the GVN that we were serious about limiting the U.S. commitment and 
throwing the burden onto the South Vietnamese themselves. The public an- 
nouncement of the policy, on October 2, 1963, after the McNamara-Taylor trip 
to Vietnam was also a wise choice. Even though this announcement may 
have contributed to the so-called "credibility gap," publication was a necessity. 

164 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

Without it, the formal and classified planning process would have seemed to be 
nothing more than a drill. 

While the choice of means was appropriate for getting a handle on the prob- 
lem, it proceeded from some basic unrealities. First, only the most Micaw- 
beresque predictions could have led decision-makers in Washington to believe 
that the fight against the guerrillas would have clearly turned the corner by 
FY 65. Other nations' experience in internal warfare pointed plainly in the 
other direction. With more propitious circumstances, e.g. isolation from sanctu- 
aries, the Philippine and Malayan insurgencies each took the better part of a 
dozen years to bring to an end. 

Second, there was an unrealistic contradiction within the CPSVN itself. As 
directed by Secretary McNamara, U.S. MAP was to decrease as RVNAF in- 
creased. In practical terms, MAP costs should have been programmed to in- 
crease as the South Vietnamese Army increased, and as they themselves began 
to bear most of the burden. The desire to keep MAP costs down after FY 65 
could, at best, be perceived as a budgeting or program gimmick not a serious 

Three, the political situation in South Vietnam itself should have prompted 
more realistic contingency plans against failure of the Vietnamese, in order to 
give the U.S. some options other than what appeared as precipitous withdrawal. 
The intelligence and reporting systems for Vietnam during this period must 
bear a principal responsibility for the unfounded optimism of U.S. policy. Ex- 
cept for some very tenuous caveats, the picture was repeatedly painted in terms 
of progress and success. 

In the July 1962 Honolulu Conference the tone was set. Secretary McNamara 
asked COMUSMACV how long it would take before the VC could be expected 
to be eliminated as a significant force. In reply, COMUSMACV estimated 
about one year from the time RVNAF and other forces became fully opera- 
tional and began to press the VC in all areas. Mr. McNamara was told and be- 
lieved that there had been "tremendous progress" in the past six months. This 
theme was re-echoed in April of 1963 by COMUSMACV and by the intelli- 
gence community through an NIE. All the statistics and evaluations pointed 
to GVN improvement. While noting general progress, the NIE stated that the 
situation remains flexible. Even as late as July 1963 a rosy picture was being 
painted by DIA and SACSA. The first suggestion of a contrary evaluation within 
the bureaucracy came from INR. Noting disquieting statistical trends since 
July, an unpopular INR memo stated that the "pattern showed steady decline 
over a period of more than three months duration." It was greeted with a storm 
of disagreement, and in the end was disregarded. 

The first, more balanced evaluation came with the McNamara-Taylor trip re- 
port late in September and October, 1963. While it called the political situation 
"deeply serious," even this report was basically optimistic about the situation, 
and saw little danger of the political crisis affecting the prosecution of the war. 

Not until after the Diem coup, the assassination of President Kennedy, and 
the December Vietnam trip of Secretary McNamara was the Vietnam situation 
accurately assessed. In Secretary McNamara's December memo to the Presi- 
dent, after his trip, he wrote: "The situation is very disturbing. Current trends, 
unless reversed in the next 2-3 months, will lead to a neutralization at best 
and more likely to a communist-controlled state." One of the most serious de- 
ficiencies he found was a "grave reporting weakness on the U.S. side." Mr. 
McNamara's judgment, apparently, was not predominant. He noted in the con- 
cluding paragraph of his memo that he "may be overly pessimistic, inasmuch as 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 165 

the ambassador, COMUSMACV, and General Minh were not discouraged and 
look forward to significant improvements in January." 

By 6 March 1964 when another major Secretary of Defense Conference 
convened at CINCPAC Headquarters, the consensus was that the military situa- 
tion was definitely deteriorating. The issue was no longer whether there was or 
was not satisfactory progress; the question was how much of a setback had there 
been and what was needed to make up for it. Mr. McNamara observed that at- 
tention should now be focused on near term objectives of providing for neces- 
sary greater U.S. support. It was finally agreed that the insurgency could be ex- 
pected to go beyond 1965. 

The intelligence and reporting problem during this period cannot be ex- 
plained away. In behalf of the evaluators and assessors, it can be argued that 
their reporting up until the Diem coup had some basis in fact. The situation 
may not have been too bad until December 1963. Honest and trained men in 
Vietnam looking at the problems were reporting what they believed reality to 
be. In retrospect, they were not only wrong, but more importantly, they were 
influential. The Washington decision-makers could not help but be guided by 
these continued reports of progress. 

Phased withdrawal was a good policy that was being reasonably well exe- 
cuted. In the way of our Vietnam involvement, it was overtaken by events. Not 
borne of deep conviction in the necessity for a U.S. withdrawal or in the neces- 
sity of forcing the GVN to truly carry the load, it was bound to be submerged 
in the rush of events. A policy more determined might have used the pretext 
and the fact of the Diem coup and its aftermath as reason to push for the con- 
tinuation of withdrawal. Instead, the instability and fear of collapse resulting 
from the Diem coup brought the U.S. to a decision for greater commitment. 

End of Summary 


23 Jul 62 Geneva Accords on Laos 

14-Nation declaration on the neutrality of Laos. 

23 Jul 62 Sixth Secretary of Defense Conference, Honolulu 

Called to examine present and future developments in South 
Vietnam — which looked good. Mr. McNamara initiated immediate 
planning for the phase-out of U.S. military involvement by 1965 
and development of a program to build a GVN military capability 
strong enough to take over full defense responsibilities by 1965. 

26 Jul 62 JCS Message to CINCPAC 

CINCPAC was formally instructed to develop a "Comprehensive 
Plan for South Vietnam" (CPSVN) in line with instructions given 
at Honolulu. 

14 Aug 62 CINCPAC Message to MACV 

MACV was directed to draw up a CPSVN designed to ensure GVN 
military and para-military strength commensurate with its sovereign 
responsibilities. The CPSVN was to assume the insurgency would 
be under control in three years, that extensive US support would 
be available during the three-year period; that those items essential 
to development of full RVNAF capability would be (largely) 
available through the military assistance program (MAP). 

166 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V 'ol. II 

Oct— Nov. GVN National Campaign Plan developed 

1962 In addition to the CPSVN, MACV prepared an outline for an 

integrated, nationwide offensive military campaign to destroy the 
insurgency and restore GVN control in South Vietnam. The con- 
cept was adopted by the GVN in November. 

26 Nov 62 Military Reorganization Decreed 

Diem ordered realignment of military chain of command, re- 
organization of RVNAF, establishment of four CTZ's and a Joint 
Operations Center to centralize control over current military opera- 
tions. (JOC became operational on 20 December 1962.) 

7 Dec 62 First Draft of CPSVN Completed 

CINCPAC disapproved first draft because of high costs and in- 
adequate training provisions. 

19 Jan 63 MACV Letter to CINCPAC, 3010 Ser 0021 

MACV submitted a revised CPSVN. Extended through FY 1968 
and concurred in by the Ambassador, it called for GVN military 
forces to peak at 458,000 in FY 1964 (RVNAF strength would 
be 230,900 in FY 1964); cost projected over six years would total 
$978 million. 

22 Jan 63 OSD(ISA ) Message to CINCPAC 

MAP-Vietnam dollar guide lines issued. Ceilings considerably 
different from and lower than those in CPSVN. 

25 Jan 63 CINCPAC Letter to JCS, 1010, Ser 0079 

Approved the CPSVN, supported and justified the higher MAP 
costs projected by it. 

7 Mar 63 JCSM 190-63 

JCS recommended SecDef approve the CPSVN; supporting the 
higher MAP costs, JCS proposed CPSVN be the basis for revision 
of FY 1964 MAP and development of FY 1965-69 programs. 

20 Mar 63 USMACV "Summary of Highlights, 9 Feb 62-7 Feb 63" 

Reported continuing, growing RVNAF effectiveness, increased 
GVN strength economically and politically. The strategic hamlet 
program looked especially good. MACV forecast winning the 
military phase in 1963 — barring "greatly increased" VC reinforce- 
ment and resupply. 

17 Apr 63 NIE 53-63 

Although "fragile," the situation in SVN did not appear serious; 
general progress was reported in most areas. 

6 May 63 Seventh SecDef Honolulu Conference 

Called to [word illegible] the CPSVN. Largely because of prevail- 
ing optimism over Vietnam, Mr. McNamara found the CPSVN 
assistance too costly, the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces too 
slow and RVNAF development misdirected. 

9 May 63 Buddhist Crisis Begins 

GVN forces fired on worshipers celebrating Buddha's birthday 
(several killed, more wounded) for no good cause. Long standing 
antipathy toward GVN quickly turned into active opposition. 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 167 

8 May 63 Two SecDef Memoranda for ASD/ISA 

First: Directed joint ISA/JCS development of plans to replace 
US forces with GVN troops as soon as possible and to plan the 
withdrawal of 1,000 US troops by the end of 1963. 
Second: Requested the Office, Director of Military Assistance, ISA, 
"completely rework" the MAP program recommended in the 
CPSVN and submit new guidelines by 1 September. The Secretary 
felt CPSVN totals were too high (e.g., expenditures proposed for 
FY's 1965-68 could be cut by $270 Million in his view). 

9 May 63 JCS Message 9820 to CINCPAC 

Directed CINCPAC to revise the CPSVN and program the with- 
drawal of 1,000 men by the end of 1963. Force reduction was to 
be by US units (not individuals); units were to be replaced by 
specially trained RVNAF units. Withdrawal plans were to be 
contingent upon continued progress in the counterinsurgency 

/ 1 May 63 C INC PA C Letter to JCS, 301 Ser 00447-63 

CINCPAC recommended some changes, then approved MACV's 
revision of the CPSVN and the MACV plan for withdrawal of 
1,000 men. As instructed, those 1,000 men were drawn from 
logistic and service support slots; actual operations would be un- 
affected by their absence. 

17 May 63 ASD/ISA Memorandum for the Secretary 

ISA's proposed MAP-Vietnam program based on the Secretary's 
instructions was rejected as still too high. 

29 May 63 OSD/1SA Message to CINCPAC 

CINCPAC was directed to develop three alternative MAP plans 

for FYs 1965-69 based on these levels: 

$585 M (CPSVN recommendation) 

$450 M (Compromise) 

$365 M (SecDef goal) 

MAP for FY 1964 had been set at $180 M. 

16 Jim 63 GVN-Buddhist Truce {State Airgram A-781 to Embassy Saigon, 

10 June) 

Reflected temporary and tenuous abatement of GVN-Buddhist 
hostilities which flared up in May. The truce was repudiated almost 
immediately by both sides. Buddhist alienation from the GVN 
polarized; hostilities spread. 

17 Jul 63 D1A Intelligence Summary 

Reported the military situation was unaffected by the political 
crisis; GVN prospects for continued counterinsurgency progress 
were "certainly better" than in 1962; VC activity was reduced but 
VC capability essentially unimpaired. 

18 Jul 63 CINCPAC-proposed MAP program submitted to JCS 

CINCPAC suggested military assistance programs at the three 
levels set by the JCS but recommended adoption of a fourth Plan 
developed by CINCPAC. "Plan J" totalled $450.9 M over the five- 
year period. 

168 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

4 Aug 63 DIA Intelligence Bulletin 

Rather suddenly, Viet Cong offensive actions were reported high 
for the third consecutive week; the implication was that the VC 
were capitalizing on the political crisis and might step up the 

14 Aug 63 SACS A Memorandum for the Secretary 

Discounted the importance of increased VC activity; the compara- 
tive magnitude of attacks was low; developments did not yet 
seem salient or lasting. 

20 Aug 63 Diem declared martial law; ordered attacks on Buddhist pagodas 
This decree plus repressive measures against the Buddhists shat- 
tered hopes of reconciliation, and irrevocably isolated the Diem 

20 A ug 63 JCSM629-63 

CINCPAC/MACV proposed plan for 1,000-man withdrawal in 
three to four increments for planning purposes only; recommended 
final decision on withdrawal be delayed until October. 

21 Aug 63 Director, DIA Memorandum for SecDef 

Estimated that Diem's acts will have "serious repercussions" 
throughout SVN: foresaw more coup and counter-coup activity. 
But reported military operations were so far unaffected by these 

27 Aug 63 JCSM 640-63 

JCS added yet a fifth "Model M" Plan to CINCPAC's four alterna- 
tive MAP levels. Providing for higher force levels termed necessary 
by the JCS, the Model M total was close to $400 M. JCS recom- 
mended the Model M Plan be approved. 

30 Aug 63 OSD/ISA Memorandum for the Secretary 

Recommended approval of JCSM 629-63. But noted many "units" 
to be withdrawn were ad hoc creations of expendable support 
personnel, cautioned that public reaction to "phony" withdrawal 
would be damaging: suggested actual strength and authorized 
ceiling levels be publicized and monitored. 

3 Sep 63 SecDef Memorandum to CJCS 

Approved JCSM-629-63. Advised JCS against creating special 
units as a means to cut back unnecessary personnel; requested the 
projected US strength figures through 1963. 

5 Sep 63 ASD/1SA Memoradum to the Secretary 

Concurred in JCS recommendation with minor reservations that 
the Model M Plan for military assistance to SVN be approved. 

6 Sep 63 SecDef Memorandum for CJCS 

Approved Model M Plan as the basis for FY 65-69 MAP 
planning; advised that US materiel turned over to RVNAF must 
be charged to and absorbed by the authorized Model M Plan 

11 Sep 63 

CJCS Memorandum for SecDef 

Forwarded the military strength figures (August thru December) 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 169 

to SecDef; advised that the 1,000-man withdrawal would be 
counted against the peak October strength (16,732). First incre- 
ment was scheduled for withdrawal in November, the rest in De- 

Presidential Memorandum for the SecDef 

Directed McNamara and Taylor (CJCS) to personally assess the 
critical situation in SVN — both political and military; to determine 
what GVN action was required for change and what the US 
should do to produce such action. 

ASD/ISA (ODMA) "MAP Vietnam: Manpower and Financial 

Approved MAP totals reflected the Model M Plan: 

FY 1964 : $180.6 M 
FY 1965-69: $211.6 M 

Total: $392.2 M 

The GVN force levels proposed were substantially below those of 
the January CPSVN (from a peak strength in FY 1964 of 
442,500, levels were to fall to 120,200 in FY 1969). 

SecDef CJCS Mission to South Vietnam 

Positive detailed evidence presented in numerous briefings indi- 
cated conditions were good and would improve. Hence, the Secre- 
tary ordered acceleration of the planned U.S. force phase-out. 

McN amara-Taylor Briefing for the President, and later, the NSC 
Concluded the military campaign has made great progress and 
continues to progress, but warned that further Diem-Nhu repres- 
sion could change the "present favorable military trends." 

McN amara-Taylor met with President and NSC 

The President approved the military recommendations made by 

the Secretary and Chairman: 

— that MACV and Diem review changes necessary to com- 
plete the military campaign in I, II, and III Corps by the 
end of 1964, in IV Corps by 1965: 

— that a training program be established to enable RVNAF 
to take over military functions from the US by the end of 
1965 when the bulk of US personnel could be withdrawn: 

— that DOD informally announce plans to withdraw 1,000 
men by the end of 1963. 

no further reductions in US strength would be made until require- 
ments of the 1964 campaign were clear. 

NSAM 263 

Approved the military recommendations contained in the Mc- 
Namara-Taylor Report; directed no formal announcement be 
made of implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 men by the 
end of 1963. 

State Department INR Memo RFE-90 

Assessed trends since July 1963 as evidence of an unfavorable 

170 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

shift in military balance. (This was one of the first indications that 
all was not as rosy as MACV et al had led McNamara and Taylor 
to believe.) 

1 Nov 63 Diem Government Overthrown 

The feared political chaos, civil war and collapse of the war did 
not materialize immediately; US Government was uncertain as to 
what the new circumstances meant. General Minh headed the 
junta responsible for the coup. 

20 Nov 63 All-agency Conference on Vietnam, Honolulu 

Ambassador Lodge assessed prospects as hopeful; recommended 
US continue the policy of eventual military withdrawal from 
SVN; said announced 1,000-man withdrawal was having salutary 
effects. MACV agreed. In this light, officials agreed that the Ac- 
celerated Plan (speed-up of force withdrawal by six months 
directed by McNamara in October) should be maintained. Mc- 
Namara wanted MAP spending held close to OSD's $175.5 million 
ceiling (because of acceleration, a FY 64 MAP of $187.7 million 
looked possible). 

22 Nov 63 President Kennedy Assassinated 

One result: US Government policies in general were maintained 
for the sake of continuity, to allow the new administration time to 
settle and adjust. This tendency to reinforce existing policies 
arbitrarily, just to keep them going, extended the phase-out, with- 
drawal and MAP concepts — probably for too long. 

23 Nov 63 SecDef Memorandum for the President 

Calling GVN political stability vital to the war and calling atten- 
tion to GVN financial straits, the Secretary said the US must be 
prepared to increase aid to Saigon. Funding well above current 
MAP plans was envisaged. 

26 Nov 63 NSAM273 

President Johnson approved recommendations to continue current 
policy toward Vietnam put forward at the 20 November Honolulu 
meeting: reaffirmed US objectives on withdrawal. 

3 Dec 63 [material missing] 

Region /ISA Memorandum for the ASD/ISA [words missing] 
nam developments, for a "fresh new look" at the problem, second 
echelon leaders outlined a broad interdepartmental "Review of 
the South Vietnam Situation." This systematic effort did not cul- 
minate in high level national reassessment of specific policy re-ori- 

5 Dec 63 CINCPAC Message to JCS 

Submitted the Accelerated Model Plan version of CPSVN. From 
a total of 15,200 in FY 1964, US military strength in Vietnam 
would drop to 11,500 in FY 1965 (vice 13,100 recommended by 
the Model M Plan), to about 3,200 in FY 1966 and 2,600 in FY 
1967. GVN force levels were a bit lower but GVN force build-up 
a bit faster than recommended by the Model M Plan. MAP costs 
for FYs 1965-1969 totalled $399.4 million (vice $392.2 million 
under Model M Plan). 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 111 

11 Dec 63 CM 1079-63 for SecDef 

The adjusted year-end strength figure was 15,394. Although 1,000 
men were technically withdrawn, no actual reduction of US 
strength was achieved. The December figure was not 1,000 less 
than the peak October level. 

13 Dec 63 Director, DIA Memorandum for the Secretary 

Reported the VC had improved combat effectiveness and force 
posture during 1963, that VC capability was unimpaired. (Quite 
a different picture had been painted by SACSA in late October: 
"An Overview of the Vietnam War, 1960-1963," personally di- 
rected to the Secretary, was a glowing account of steady military 

30 Jan 64 Second Coup in Saigon 

General Minh's military regime was replaced by a junta headed 
by General Khanh. 

10, 11, 14, Deputy Director, CIA Memoranda for SecDef, SecState, et al 
19 Feb 64 Suspicious of progress reports, CIA sent a special group to "look 
at" South Vietnam. Its independent evaluation revealed a serious 
and steadily deteriorating GVN situation. Vietcong gains and, sig- 
nificantly, the quality and quantity of VC arms had increased. The 
Strategic Hamlet Program was "at virtual standstill." The insur- 
gency tide seemed to be "going against GVN" in all four Corps. 

6 Mar 64 Eighth SecDef Conference on Vietnam, Honolulu 

Participants agreed that the military situation was definitely de- 
teriorating, that insurgency would probably continue beyond 1965, 
that the US must immediately determine what had to be done to 
make up for the setback(s). 

9—16 McNamar a/ Taylor Trip to Vietnam 

Mar 64 Personally confirmed the gravity of the Vietnam situation. 

16 Mar 64 SecDef Memorandum for the President: "Report on Trip to Viet- 

Mr. McNamara reported the situation was "unquestionably" worse 
than in September. (RVNAF desertion rates were up: GVN mili- 
tary position was weak and the Vietcong, with increased NVN 
support, was strong.) Concluding that more US support was nec- 
essary, the Secretary made twelve recommendations. These in- 

— More economic assistance, military training, equipment 
and advisory assistance, as needed. 

— Continued high-level US overflights of GVN borders; au- 
thorization for "hot pursuit" and ground operations in 

— Prepare to initiate — on 72 hours' notice — Laos and Cam- 
bodia border control operations and retaliatory actions 
against North Vietnam. 

— Make plans to initiate — on 30 days' notice — a "program 
of Graduated Overt Military Pressures" against North 

172 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V oh II 

Mr. McNamara called the policy of reducing existing US person- 
nel where South Vietnamese could assume their functions "still 
sound" but said no major reductions could be expected in the near 
future. He felt US training personnel could be substantially re- 
duced before the end of 1965. 

17 Mar 64 N SAM 299 

The President approved the twelve recommendations presented 
by Mr. McNamara and directed all agencies concerned to carry 
them out promptly. 

[material missing] 
forces was superseded by the policy of providing South Vietnam 
assistance and support as long as required to bring aggression and 
terrorism under control (as per NSAM 288). 

6 May 64 CINCPAC Message to MACV 

Indicated growing US military commitment: this 1500-man aug- 
mentation raised the total authorized level to 17,000. 

1—2 Jun 64 Special Meeting on Southeast Asia, Honolulu 

Called in part to examine the GVN National Campaign Plan — 
which was failing. The conferees agreed to increase RVNAF 
effectiveness by extending and intensifying the US advisory effort 
as MACV recommended. 

25 Jun 64 ■ MACV Message 325390 to ICS 

Formal MACV request for 900 additional advisory personnel. His 
justification for advisors at the battalion level and for more ad- 
visors at district and sector levels was included. Also, 80 USN 
advisors were requested to establish a Junk Force and other mari- 
time counterinsurgency measures. 

4 Jul 64 C INC PA C Message to JCS 

CINCPAC recommended approval of the MACV proposal for in- 
tensification of US advisory efforts. 

1 5 Jul 64 Saigon EMBTEL 1 08 

Ambassador Taylor reported that revised VC strength estimates 
now put the enemy force between 28,000 and 34,000. No cause 
for alarm, he said the new estimate did demonstrate the magni- 
tude of the problem and the need to raise the level of US/GVN 
efforts. Taylor thought a US strength increase to 21,000 by the 
end of the year would be sufficient. 

16 Jul 64 MACV Message 6180 to CINCPAC 

MACV requested 3,200 personnel to support the expansion (by 
900) of US advisory efforts — or 4,200 more men over the next 
nine months. 

17 Jul 64 EMBTEL 

Ambassador Taylor concurred in MACV's proposed increase, 
recommended prompt approval and action. 

21 Jul 64 State 205 to Saigon 

Reported Presidential approval (at the 21 July NSC meeting) of 
the MACV deployment package. 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 173 

Dec 64 Further increases 

Total US strength was 23,000: further deployments were on the 

I. 1962 

A. EARLY 1962 

From mid- 1962 to early 1964 the U.S. government went through a formal 
planning process, ostensibly designed to disengage the U.S. from direct and 
large-scale military involvement in Vietnam. In retrospect, this experience falls 
into place as a more or less isolated episode of secondary importance; eventually 
abortive, it had little impact on the evolution of the Vietnam war. It does, how- 
ever, serve as a vehicle for understanding one long phase of the war and the 
U.S. role in it. 

The genesis lay in a conjuncture of circumstances during the first half of 
1962 that prompted the U.S. to shift its Vietnam perspective from the hitherto 
restricted one of largely tactical responses to current, localized, and situational 
requirements, to fitting these to more strategic and purposeful long-range courses 
of action. The expanded perspective was programmatic in outlook, and ori- 
ented toward specific goals — end the insurgency and withdraw militarily from 

At the outset, the motivation for the idea of phased withdrawal of U.S. forces 
was threefold: in part, the belief that developments in Vietnam itself were go- 
ing well; in part, doubt over the efficacy of using U.S. forces in an internal war; 
and in part, the demands of other crises in the world that were more important 
to Washington than Vietnam. In the course of materializing into policy and 
assuming form as plans, these premises were transformed into conclusions, 
desiderata institutionalized as objectives, and wish took on the character and 
force of imperative. 

For example, in March 1962, Secretary McNamara testified before Congress 
that he was "optimistic" over prospects for U.S. success in aiding Vietnam, and 
"encouraged at the progress the South Vietnamese are making." He expressed 
conviction that the U.S. would attain its objectives there. But he emphasized 
that the U.S. strategy was to avoid participating directly in the war while seek- 
ing an early military conclusion: 

I would say definitely we are approaching it from the point of view 
of trying to clean it up, and terminating subversion, covert aggression, 
and combat operations. . . . 

. . . We are wise to carry on the operations against the Communists 
in that area by assisting native forces rather than by using U.S. forces 
for combat. 

Not only does that release U.S. forces for use elsewhere in the world 
or for stationing in the United States, but also it is probably the most ef- 
fective way to combat the Communist subversion and covert aggression. 
To introduce white forces — U.S. forces — in large numbers there today, 
while it might have an initial favorable military impact would almost cer- 
tainly lead to adverse political and in the long run adverse military opera- 
tions. And therefore, we think the program we are carrying out is the 

174 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V oh II 

most effective one and certainly it is directed toward termination of op- 
erations as rapidly as possible. 

In late spring of 1962, the military situation in South Vietnam showed hope- 
ful signs of at last having turned a corner. The various programs under way, 
initiated the previous fall as a result of decisions in NSAM No. Ill, appeared to 
be bearing out the basic soundness of the new approach. Assessments and evalu- 
ations being reported from the field indicated a pattern of progress on a broad 
front, and their consistency through time reinforced the impression. By mid- 
year the prospects looked bright. Continuing favorable developments now held 
forth the promise of eventual success, and to many the end of the insurgency 
seemed in sight. This optimism was not without the recognition that there were 
unsolved political problems and serious soft spots in certain areas of the mili- 
tary effort. But U.S. leadership, both on the scene in Vietnam as well as in 
Washington, was confident and cautiously optimistic. In some quarters, even a 
measure of euphoria obtained. 

At the same time, events outside Vietnam, some of them ostensibly unrelated, 
were asserting a direct and immediate relevance for U.S. policy and strategy 
in Vietnam. As competing priorities, they far overshadowed Vietnam. In the 
larger scheme of things, an indefinite military commitment in Southeast Asia 
was being relegated perforce to a parenthetical diversion the nation could then 
ill afford. More central issues in Berlin, Cuba, and in Laos were at stake, perhaps 
even to the extent of survival. 

Looming foremost was the Berlin problem. Fraught with grave overtones of 
potential nuclear confrontation with the USSR, it reached crisis proportions in 
the spring of 1962 over the air corridor issue, and after a temporary lull, flared 
anew in early summer. By the first of July it was again as tense as ever. U.S. 
reserves had been recalled to active duty, additional forces were deployed to 
Europe, and domestic Civil Defense activities, including shelter construction 
programs, were accelerated. 

The burgeoning Cuba problem too was taking on a pressing urgency by vir- 
tue of both its proximity and growing magnitude. The Castro aspects alone were 
becoming more than a vexing localized embarrassment. Given the volatile 
Caribbean political climate, Cuban inspired mischief could raise tensions to the 
flash point momentarily. Moreover, by early summer of 1962 increasing evi- 
dence of Soviet machinations to exploit Cuba militarily was rapidly adding an 
alarming strategic dimension. Though the nature and full significance of these 
latter developments would not be revealed until the climactic Cuban Missile 
Crisis a few months later, the U.S. was already apprehensive of serious danger 
on its very doorstep. Official interpretive evaluations at the time saw an inti- 
mate causal nexus between Berlin and Cuba. 

Finally, another set of factors altering the strategic configuration in Southeast 
Asia and affecting the U.S. position there also came to a head in mid-summer 
of 1962. These were developments regarding Laos, which impinged upon and 
helped reshape the U.S. relationship toward Vietnam. In the fall of 1961 and 
through the spring of 1962 the U.S., its objectives frustrated in Laos, had 
decided to salvage as much as possible by settling for neutralization. After 
lengthy and complex diplomatic maneuvering, this was essentially achieved by 
early summer. On 23 July 1962 the 14-nation declaration and protocol on the 
neutrality of Laos was signed formally, ending the 15-month Geneva Confer- 
ence on Laos. The outcome had at once the effect of extricating the U.S. from 
one insoluble dilemma and serving as a stark object lesson for another. The 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 175 

Laos settlement now both allowed the U.S. a free hand to concentrate on Viet- 
nam and provided the incentive and determination to bring to a close its mili- 
tary commitment there as well — but this time successfully. 

It was in this spirit and context that the U.S. decided to pursue actively the 
policy objective of divesting itself of direct military involvement of U.S. per- 
sonnel in the Vietnam insurgency. The aim was to create militarily favorable 
conditions so that further U.S. military involvement would no longer be needed. 
To this end, two prerequisites had to be satisfied: bringing the insurgency 
effectively under control; and simultaneously, developing a militarily viable 
South Vietnam capable of carrying its own defense burden without U.S. mili- 
tary help. In phase with the progress toward both these goals, there then could 
be proportionate reductions in U.S. forces. 

OF JULY 1962 

In July 1962, as the prospect of the neutralization of Laos by the Geneva 
Conference became imminent, policy attention deliberately turned toward the 
remaining Vietnam problem. At the behest of the President, the Secretary of 
Defense undertook to reexamine the situation there and address himself to its 
future — with a view to assuring that it be brought to a successful conclusion 
within a reasonable time. Accordingly, he called a full-dress conference on 
Vietnam at CINCPAC Headquarters in Hawaii. On 23 July, the same day 
that the 14-nation neutralization declaration on Laos was formally signed in 
Geneva, the Sixth Secretary of Defense Conference convened in Honolulu. 

The series of briefings and progress reports presented at the conference 
depicted a generally favorable situation. Things were steadily improving and 
promised to continue. Most programs underway were moving forward, as the 
statistical indicators clearly demonstrated. Those directly related to prosecution 
of the counterinsurgency effort showed measurable advances being made to- 
ward winning the war. Programs for expanding and improving RVNAF 
capability were likewise coming along well, and in most cases were ahead of 
schedule. Confidence and optimism prevailed. 

Impressed, Mr. McNamara acknowledged that the "tremendous progress" in 
the past six months was gratifying. He noted, however, that these achievements 
had been the result of short-term ad hoc actions on a crash basis. What was 
needed now was to conceive a long-range concerted program of systematic 
measures for training and equipping the RVNAF and for phasing out major 
U.S. advisory and logistic support activities. The Secretary then asked how long 
a period it would take before the VC could be expected to be eliminated as a 
significant force. COMUSMACV, in reply to the direct question, estimated 
about one year from the time the RVNAF, the Civil Guard, and the Self- 
Defense Corps became fully operational and began to press the VC in all 

The Secretary said that a conservative view had to be taken and to assume 
it would take three years instead of one, that is, by the latter part of 1965. He 
observed that it might be difficult to retain public support for U.S. operations 
in Vietnam indefinitely. Political pressures would build up as losses continued. 
Therefore, he concluded, planning must be undertaken now and a program 
devised to phase out U.S. military involvement. He, therefore, directed that a 
comprehensive long-range program be developed for building up South Viet- 
namese military capability for taking over defense responsibilities and phasing 

176 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

out the U.S. role, assuming that it would require approximately three years 
(end 1965) for the RVNAF to be trained to the point that they could cope 
with the VC. The program was to include training requirements, equipment 
requirements, U.S. advisory requirements, and U.S. units. 

For the record, the formulation of the decisions made and the directives for 
action to be taken resulting from the Conference was as follows: 

a. Prepare plans for the gradual scaling down of USMACV during the 
next 3-year period, eliminating U.S. units and detachments as Viet- 
namese were trained to perform their functions. 

b. Prepare programs with the objective of giving South Vietnam an ade- 
quate military capability without the need for special U.S. military 
assistance, to include (1) a long-range training program to establish 
an officer corps able to manage GVN military operations, and (2) a 
long-range program and requirements to provide the necessary materiel 
to make possible a turnover to RVNAF three years from July 1962. 

The U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam, had been augmented 
in 1961 by aviation, communications, and intelligence units, as well as by 
Special Forces and other advisers. The Secretary of Defense plainly intended 
that plans be devised for terminating the mission of the augmenting units. 

Three days later on 26 July, the JCS formally directed CINCPAC to develop 
a Comprehensive Plan for South Vietnam (CPSVN) in accordance with the 
Secretary's decisions of 23 July. CINCPAC, in turn, so instructed COMUSMACV 
on 14 August, at the same time furnishing additional guidance and terms of 
reference elaborating on the original SecDef decisions at Honolulu and the JCS 
directive. The stated objective of the CPSVN was given as: 

Develop a capability within military and para-military forces of the 
GVN by the end of CY 65 that will help the GVN to achieve the strength 
necessary to exercise permanent and continued sovereignty over that part 
of Vietnam which lies below the demarcation line without the need for 
continued U.S. special military assistance. 

Development of the plan was to be based on the following assumptions: 

a. The insurgency will be under control at the end of three years (end 
of CY 65). 

b. Extensive U.S. support will continue to be required during the three 
year period, both to bring the insurgency under control and to prepare 
GVN forces for early take-over of U.S. activities. 

c. Previous MAP funding ceilings for SVN are not applicable. Program 
those items essential to do this job. 


Planning, in two complementary modes, got underway, immediately. Con- 
currently with development of the unilateral U.S. CPSVN, USMACV planners 
prepared a concept and proposed outline of a GVN National Campaign Plan 
(NCP) for launching an integrated nation-wide campaign of offensive military 
operations to eliminate the insurgency and restore the country to GVN control. 
A central purpose was to reorganize and redispose the VNAF and streamline 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 111 

the chain of command, in order to improve responsiveness, coordination, and 
general effectiveness of the military effort against the VC. Greater authority 
would be centralized in the Vietnamese Joint General Staff (JGS); Corps 
Tactical Zones (CTZs) would be increased from three to four; and each CTZ 
would have its own direct air and naval support. 

Over and above organizational considerations, the NCP provided for systematic 
intensification of aggressive operations in all CTZs to keep the VC off balance, 
while simultaneously conducting clear and hold operations in support of the 
expanding Strategic Hamlet Program. Priority of military tasks was first to 
concentrate on areas north of Saigon, then gradually shift toward the south to 
Saigon and the Delta. 

The proposed NCP was submitted to the GVN in October and a month later 
was adopted in concept and outline. On 26 November, President Diem promul- 
gated the necessary implementing decrees and directives to effect the reorganiza- 
tion of the SVN armed forces and realign the chain of command. An integrated 
Joint Operations Center (JOC) was also established and became operational on 
20 December, with representation from JGS and its counterpart in USMACV 
to centralize control over current operations. The following January the draft of 
a detailed implementing plan for the NCP itself was completed and subsequently 

II. 1963 


Meanwhile, the first cut at the CPSVN was also completed by the MACV 
planners. It was forwarded to CINCPAC on 7 December, but CINCPAC, upon 
reviewing the proposed plan, considered it infeasible because of the high costs 
involved and the marginal capacity of the RVNAF to train the necessary per- 
sonnel in the required skills within the time frame specified. As a result of 
CINCPAC's reaction to the initial version, the CPSVN was revised and re- 
submitted by COMUSMACV on 19 January 1963. The new CPSVN covered 
the period FY 1963-1968. In transmitting it, COMUSMACV recommended that 
future Military Assistance Programs (MAPs) be keyed therefore to the CPSVN. 
He also indicated that the CPSVN had been coordinated with the Ambassador, 
who concurred in it. 

Force levels laid out in the CPSVN provided for total personnel increases 
reaching a peak of 458,000 (regular and para-military) in FY 64, with RVNAF 
manning strength raised from 215,000 to a peak of 230,000 in the same FY 
period and remaining on that plateau thereafter. Order of magnitude costs (in 
$ millions) of the CPSVN would come to: 

FY 63 FY 64 FY 65 FY 66 FY 67 FY 68 Total 
187 218 153 138 169 113 978 

CINCPAC approved the CPSVN as submitted and sent it on to the JCS. How- 
ever, in the interim, OSD had issued dollar guidelines for MAP planning for 
Vietnam. The ceilings indicated therein were significantly at variance with the 
costing figures employed by MACV in developing the CPSVN. When CINCPAC 
forwarded the plan, therefore, he went to considerable lengths to explain the 
discrepancies and to support and justify the higher costs. Comparison of the 
DOD dollar guidelines with the CPSVN, projected through FY 69, showed a 

178 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

net difference of approximately 66 million dollars, with the preponderance of 
the increase occurring in FY 64. Most of this difference was accounted for by 
additional Packing-Crating-Handling-Transportation (PCHT) costs associated 
with the CPSVN but not accommodated in the DOD guideline figures. 

The body of the CPSVN laid out the costs in relation to the DOD dollar 
guidelines, as follows: 


FY 64 

FY 65 

FY 66 

FY 67 

FY 68 

FY 69 










DOD Guidelines 












+ 19 




PORT Added 

+ 11 

+ 11 

+ 11 

+ 11 

+ 10 











* Excludes PCHT. 

The rationale offered was that, in order to prosecute the counter-insurgency to 
a successful conclusion, while at the same time building up GVN capability to 
allow early withdrawal of U.S. forces, the major costs of the program had to be 
compressed into the FY 63-65 time frame, with a particular increase in FY 64 
and another following U.S. withdrawal in FY 67. But clearly most of the greater 
cost throughout the period reflected PCHT. 

The pattern of force levels for all South Vietnamese forces that the CPSVN 
provided for, including the separate non-MAP funded Civilian Irregular Defense 
Group, is shown in Figure 1. [Figure 1 missing.] 

Since the ultimate objective of the CPSVN was early withdrawal of U.S. 
special military assistance, the plan provided for phasing out U.S. advisory 
forces. The affected major commands of USMACV that would largely not be 
required after FY 66 were: 

1. The U.S. Marine Element which provided helicopter transportation 

2. The 2d Air Division which provided the USAF portion of the special 
military assistance support performed in SVN. This support included 
"Farmgate" (Fighter), "Mule Train" (Transportation), and "Able 
Mable" (Reconnaissance). It also provided USAF administration and 
logistical support for USAF personnel and equipment engaged in 
special military assistance to SVN. 

3. U.S. Army Support Group Vietnam (USASGV) which provided the 
U.S. Army portion of the special military assistance support for SVN 
(except that performed by MAAG and Headquarters MACV), in- 
cluding helicopter and fixed wing air transportation, signal communica- 
tions, and special forces. It also provided U.S. administrative and logis- 
tical support for assigned and attached personnel and equipment en- 
gaged in the special military assistance. 

4. Headquarters Support Activity Saigon (HSAS) which provided ad- 
ministrative support to the U.S. Headquarters and other U.S. govern- 
ment sponsored agencies and activities located in Saigon. 

5. MAAG Vietnam would have its strength reduced by one-half after 
FY 65. Only 1,500 MAAG personnel were to remain in country after 
FY 68. 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 179 

The target schedule for U.S. force withdrawal, as then forecast, is contained 
in Figure 2. 


CPSVN - Forecast of Phase-Out of U.S. Forces 


FY 63 

FY 64 

FY 65 

FY 66 

FY 67 

FY 68 















2D Air DIV 














USMC Helicopter Unit 





















On 7 March 1963, the JCS accepted the MACV CPSVN in toto and for- 
warded it to the Secretary of Defense. They recommended approval, and pro- 
posed that it be the basis for both revising the FY 64 MAP and development 
of the FY 65-69 MAPs. They requested an early decision on the CPSVN be- 
cause the greatest increase would occur in the FY 64 MAP. The JCS fully sup- 
ported the higher costs of the CPSVN above the DOD dollar guidelines. 

In OSD, the proposed CPSVN underwent starring review in ISA MA Plans 
and elsewhere. Draft responses to the JCS were prepared and then withdrawn. 
Secretary McNamara was not satisfied with either the high funding levels or the 
adequacy of the plan regarding exactly how the RVN forces were to take over 
from the U.S. to effect the desired phase-out of the U.S. military commitment. 
In mid-April he decided to withhold action pending full review of the CPSVN 
at another Honolulu conference which he expressly scheduled for that purpose 
for 6 May. Meantime, the various OSD agencies concerned were instructed to 
prepare detailed analyses and background studies for him. 

The main focus of interest of the Secretary of Defense was on the policy 
objective behind the CPSVN, namely, to reduce systematically the scale of 
U.S. involvement until phased out completely. However, the beginnings of a 
counter-current were already evident. New demands for increases all around 
were to overwhelm the phasing out objective. Ad hoc requirements for more 
U.S. forces were being generated piecemeal, each in its own right sufficiently 
reasonable and so honored. This current, counter-current dynamic can be 
illustrated well by Mr. McNamara's decisions of late March. As part of the 
Secretary's policy of demanding strict accounting and tight control on author- 
ized U.S. in-country strength ceilings, he asked for the latest reading on pro- 
jected U.S. military strength to be reached in Vietnam. He was reassured by the 
Chairman, JCS, that the estimated peak would not exceed 15,640 personnel. 
Yet, on this very same day, the Secretary approved a substantial force augmen- 
tation, requested earlier, for FARM GATE and airlift support, involving 111 
additional aircraft and a total of approximately 1475 additional personnel. 
Other similar special requirements and ad hoc approvals soon were to follow. 

Assessments of continuing favorable developments in the improving Vietnam 
situation in the spring of 1963 seemed to warrant more than ever going ahead 
with the planned phase out. The general tenor of appraisals at the USMACV 
level were that the RVNAF had regained the initiative from the VC and that 

180 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol II 

the GVN position had improved militarily, economically, and politically. Evalu- 
ations expressed in the "Summary of Highlights" covering the first year of 
MACV's existence cited in detail the record of the increasing scale, frequency, 
and effectiveness of RVNAF operations, while those of the VC were declining. 
Casualty ratios favored RVNAF by more than two to one, and the balance of 
weapons captured vs weapons lost had also shifted to the GVN side. Cited as 
perhaps the most significant progress was the Strategic Hamlet Program. The 
future looked even brighter, e.g., ". . . barring greatly increased resupply and 
reinforcement of the Viet Cong by infiltration, the military phase of the war 
can be virtually won in 1963." 

Other evaluations, though more conservative, still tended to corroborate this 
optimism. NIE 53-63, issued 17 April 1963, found no particular deterioration 
or serious problems in the military situation in South Vietnam; on the contrary, 
it saw some noticeable improvements and general progress over the past year. 
The worst that it could say was that the situation "remains fragile." 


At the 6 May Honolulu Conference, briefing reports again confirmed grati- 
fying progress in the military situation. Addressing the CPSVN, Mr. McNamara 
questioned the need for more Vietnamese forces in FY 68 (224.4 thousand) 
than the present level of 215 thousand. His reasoning was that a poor nation 
of 12 million like Vietnam could not support that many men under arms. 
Qualitatively, furthermore, the planned evolution of VNAF seemed over- 
ambitious in terms of sophisticated weaponry such as fighter aircraft. In sum, 
the Secretary felt the CPSVN assumed an unrealistically high force level for 
the SVN military establishment and assigned it equipment that was both unduly 
complicated to operate and expensive to procure and maintain. 

Based on these considerations, the Secretary of Defense concluded that, if 
the insurgency came under control in FY 65 as anticipated, the U.S. MAP 
investment in SVN thereafter should not be more than at the rate of about 
$50 million per year. In his view, thus, the $573 million MAP proposed in the 
CPSVN for the period FY 65 through FY 68 was at least $270 million higher 
than an acceptable program. 

With regard to phasing out U.S. forces, the Secretary of Defense stated that 
the pace contemplated in the CPSVN was too slow. He wanted it revised to 
accomplish a more rapid withdrawal by accelerating training programs in 
order to speed up replacement of U.S. units by GVN units as fast as possible. 
While recognizing that the build-up of RVNAF was inherently a slow process, 
he stressed that in the instance of some U.S. units which had been in SVN 
since 1961, it would be possible more rapidly to transfer functions to Viet- 
namese. Specifically toward this end, he decided that 1,000 U.S. military 
personnel should be withdrawn from South Vietnam by the end of CY 63 and 
directed that concrete plans be so drawn up. 

On returning to Washington the Secretary of Defense instructed the ASD(ISA) 
on 8 May to develop, in coordination with the Joint Staff, a plan for replacing 
U.S. forces currently deployed in Vietnam with indigenous SVN forces as 
rapidly as possible, and particularly, to prepare a plan for withdrawing 1,000 
U.S. troops before the end of 1965. In another memorandum the same day to 
the ASD(ISA) regarding the MAP, he noted that "the plan needs to be com- 
pletely reworked." He therefore instructed ISA also to develop a new, lower 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 181 

MAP for Vietnam for the period FY 65 through 69, requesting that the ISA 
recommendations be submitted by the first of September. 

A day later, on 9 May, the JCS formally directed CINCPAC to take the 
necessary actions resulting from the Honolulu Conference and revise the 
CPSVN. Guidance and terms of reference were provided reflecting the Secre- 
tary of Defense reactions and specifying the decisions reached. Singled out 
especially was the requirement for U.S. force withdrawal. The JCS directive 

As a matter or urgency a plan for the withdrawal of about 1,000 U.S. 
troops before the end of the year should be developed based upon the 
assumption that the progress of the counterinsurgency campaign would 
warrant such a move. Plans should be based upon withdrawal of US units 
(as opposed to individuals) by replacing them with selected and specially 
trained RVNAF units. 

COMUSMACV in turn was tasked to draft the revised CPSVN and prepare 
a plan for the 1000-man reduction. CINCPAC, after some changes and re- 
visions, concurred in the proposed plans and forwarded them to the JCS on 
11 May. The revised outline CPSVN now provided for the following SVN force 
levels (in thousands) : 

FY 64 FY 65 FY 66 FY 67 FY 68 FY 69 

Total Military 

and Para-military 447.4 445.5 362.9 317.1 268.8 214.7 

MAP levels provided for were as follows (in $ millions) : 

FY 64 FY 65 FY 66 FY 67 FY 68 FY 69 Grand Total 
178.9 149.0 130.3 120.4 100.5 85.0 764.1 

The proposed plan for withdrawal of the first increment of U.S. forces, in 
compliance with instructions, emphasized units rather than individuals, but 
the list of so-called "units" scheduled to be included were all smaller than com- 
pany size. All Services were represented. The criteria employed, also based on 
earlier guidance, were to select most of the personnel from service support and 
logistics skills most easily spared and whose release would have least effect on 
operations. The total came to 1,003 U.S. military personnel to be withdrawn 
from South Vietnam by the end of December 1963. 


ISA meanwhile developed tentative dollar guidelines for MAP planning for 
Vietnam. The first cut, based on the Secretary of Defense's own suggested total 
for the FY 65-69 period, was rejected by the Secretary of Defense as too high 
and returned, with various desired reductions entered by the Secretary of De- 
fense. Reconciling the MAP with the CPSVN proved to be a difficult problem. 
As CPSVN succeeded, it was logical that MAP would have to increase; yet 
CPSVN tried to cut back MAP as well. For instance, the contemplated phase- 
out of U.S. artillery-spotter aircraft squadrons entailed an add-on to MAP to 
accommodate the squadron's equipment and maintenance after transferral to 
the Vietnamese. 

[Material missing] 

therefore would have to be absorbed within the authorized Model Plan ceilings. 

182 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /V ol. 11 

Nonetheless, there were still further refinements made. As finally published, 
the approved MAP reflecting the Model M Plan version of the CPSVN pro- 
vided for the following SVN active military strength levels (in thousands) : 

FY 64 FY 65 FY 66 FY 67 FY 68 FY 69 

ARVN 207.5 201.3 177.5 124.5 104.8 103.9 

Total (All Services 442.5 437.0 340.2 142.1 122.2 120.2 
regular and 

Costing levels were as follows (in $ millions) : 

FY 64 FY 65 FY 66 FY 67 FY 68 FY 69 Total 
180.6 153.0 107.7 46.2 44.6 40.7 392.2 

This final product represented a radical reduction in both force levels and 
financial investment after FY 66, consistent with the Administration's original 
policy goal of ending the war and the U.S. military involvement by December 


Meanwhile, planning for the 1000-man withdrawal directed by the Secretary 
of Defense on 6 May was split off from the CPSVN proper and the MAP, and 
was being treated as a separate entity. On 20 August, the JCS, concurring in 
the proposed plan developed by COMUSMACV and CINCPAC, forwarded it 
to the Secretary of Defense. They recommended approval at this time for plan- 
ning purposes only; final decision was to depend upon circumstances as they 
developed. The JCS also seconded CINCPAC's added proposal to withdraw the 
1000 troops in three or four increments, rather than all at one time. The reasons 
given were that this would be more practical and efficient for the U.S., would 
minimize the impact on on-going military operational activities within South 
Vietnam, and would afford the opportunity for "news prominence and coverage 
over an extended period of time." 

ISA, with certain reservations, recommended approval of the withdrawal 
plan submitted by JCS. ISA pointed out to the Secretary of Defense that the 
plan as it stood would not draw all of the 1000 troops from U.S. units that were 
to be relieved by adequately trained SVN units, as had been intended. Many of 
the so-called "units 1 ' designated therein actually were not bona fide existing 
units but were specially formed "service support units" made up of random 
individuals most easily spared throughout USMACV. ISA cautioned that the 
arbitrary creation of such ad hoc "units" solely for the purpose of the with- 
drawal might backfire in press reaction. ISA also recommended, in order to 
show credibly that the final year-end U.S. in-country strength had dropped by 
1000 from peak strength, that U.S. military strength figures in Vietnam be made 
public, and that the actual strength as well as the authorized ceilings at any 
given time be carefully monitored to insure that the desired reductions were 
indeed achieved. 

A few days later the Secretary of Defense approved the 1000-man with- 
drawal plan forwarded in JCSM-629-63 as recommended. He agreed, however, 
with ISA and advised the JCS against creating special units if their only purpose 
was to be a holding unit as a vehicle for withdrawal of individuals. He also re- 
quested that he be provided with a projection of U.S. military strength in South 
Vietnam, by month, for the period September through December 1963. 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 183 

The following week the Chairman, JCS, responded to the Secretary of 
Defense's request and furnished the following projection of end-of-month U.S. 
military strengths in South Vietnam: 

August 16,201 
September 16,483 
October 16,732 
November 16,456 
December 15,732 

It was noted that the planned 1000-man withdrawal would represent a reduc- 
tion based on the October peak strength. The first increment of 276 personnel 
would be withdrawn during November and the remaining increments in 
December. This, as it turned out, was destined to be changed somewhat before 
the withdrawal was executed. 


While the CPSVN-MAP and withdrawal planning were going on, significant 
developments altering the character of the entire situation to which the plan- 
ning effort was addressed — in fact threatening to invalidate the very premises 
from which the planning sprung — were occurring within South Vietnam. The 
Buddhist crisis was rocking the foundations of what precarious political stability 
the Diem government enjoyed and there was growing concern about its effect 
on the prosecution of the war against the VC and on improvements of RVNAF. 

A series of incidents beginning early in May revealed the deep divisions be- 
tween militant Buddhist factions, who purported to speak for the bulk of the 
South Vietnamese population, and the Government. Lack of popular support 
for the Diem regime had now turned to open opposition. As passions flared 
and Buddhist activism was met with increasingly severe countermeasures, 
violence spread and grew more serious. A tenuous truce was reached briefly 
between Buddhist leaders and the GVN on 10 June (formally signed on 16 
June) in a mutual effort to reduce tensions — but proved short-lived. Almost 
immediately the actions of both sides repudiated the agreements. 

The U.S. began to be apprehensive about the possible consequences of the 
Diem government falling as the result of a coup. By early July, the crisis was 
recognized as serious at the highest levels of the U.S. Government. 

Through mid-July assessments remained reasonably reassuring. There was 
little evidence of impact on the military sector. In fact, indications pointed to 
the military situation continuing to improve. DIA reported on 17 July that the 
general level of VC-initiated actions during the first six months of 1963 was 
considerably lower than for the same period the year before. Battalion and 
company-size attacks were at about half the 1962 level. It was noted, however, 
that despite reduced activity, VC capability remained essentially unimpaired. 
Regarding the progress of South Vietnamese counterinsurgency efforts, the 
DIA evaluation was cautiously optimistic: though there was still a long way to 
go, GVN prospects "are certainly better than they were one year ago." 

Quite abruptly, a disturbing element began to emerge. Little more than two 
weeks later, the DIA Intelligence Bulletin of 4 August reported a significant 
increase in the level of VC offensive actions. Moreover, the rate was high for 
the third week in a row since mid-July. The clear implication was that the VC 
at last were taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the Buddhist 
crisis. It had been expected — and feared — that they would seek to hasten politi- 
cal collapse and exploit whatever military vulnerabilities there were. The U.S. 

184 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

was thus justifiably concerned lest the recent revived VC aggressiveness be the 
opening phase of a stepped up insurgency. Within ten days of this DIA report, 
however, a revaluation of the significance to be attached to the increased rate 
of enemy actions allayed fears somewhat. On 14 August, SACSA, reporting to 
the Secretary of Defense, discounted the upsurge in VC activity over the past 
month. Its magnitude, comparatively, was below the average of the preceding 
year and fell far short of the previous high. In this perspective, SACSA saw no 
cause to read undue implications into developments that were as yet neither 
particularly salient nor of long duration. 

The political crisis meanwhile took a turn for the worse. President Diem, 
in an attempt to regain control, declared martial law on 20 August. The decree 
was accompanied by forcible entry into pagodas and mass arrests of Buddhist 
leaders and laity, and was immediately followed by a series of preemptory re- 
pressive measures. Any hope of reconciliation was now shattered, and the Diem 
government was irrevocably isolated. 

The Director, DIA, in a special report to the Secretary of Defense, expressed 
concern that the declaration of martial law "will have serious repercussions 
throughout the country." He foresaw further coup or counter-coup activity in 
the making, though for the time being the military had effectively assumed full 
control. So far, he saw little military effect on the war effort; relatively few 
troops had been withdrawn from normal missions. At an August 31 review of 
the problem for Vice President Johnson, Secretary of State Rusk and Secretary 
McNamara agreed that U.S. planning had to be based on two principles — that 
the U.S. would not pull out of Vietnam until the war were won, and that it 
would not participate in a coup d'etat against Diem. 

For the next month, as the precarious political situation balanced on the 
brink of imminent disaster, U.S. anxieties mounted. The Administration was 
confronted by a dilemma. It was helpless to ameliorate conditions as long as 
Diem remained in power — nor did it want to approve and support such a 
regime. Yet at the same time, it was equally helpless to encourage a change of 
government — there was no feasible replacement anywhere on the South Viet- 
namese political horizon. The upshot was an ambivalent policy of watchful 
waiting toward the GVN, while the main preoccupation and focus of attention 
was on the conduct of the South Vietnamese military forces and the progress 
of the counterinsurgency programs. These still remained the first order of 


By the middle of September, the President was deeply concerned over the 
critical political situation, but more importantly, over its effect on the war. A 
decision juncture had been reached. At issue was the U.S. military commitment 
in South Vietnam; a redirection of U.S. policy and objectives might be re- 
quired. On 21 September, the President directed the Secretary of Defense, in 
company with the Chairman, JCS, to proceed to South Vietnam for a personal 
examination of the military aspects of the situation. The President gave as the 
purpose of the trip "... my desire to have the best possible on-the-spot ap- 
praisal of the military and para-military effort to defeat the Viet Cong." He 
stated that there had been, at least until recently, "heartening results," but that 
political deterioration since May had raised serious questions about the con- 
tinued effectiveness of these efforts and the prospects for success. The Presi- 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 185 

dent, therefore, needed an assessment of the present situation, and if the 
McNamara-Taylor prognosis were not hopeful, they were to recommend 
needed actions by the SVN and steps the U.S. should take to bring about those 
actions. [Doc. 139] 

The Secretary of Defense and the CJCS, accompanied by a team of civilian 
and military assistants to help in the survey, arrived in South Vietnam on 26 
September and returned to Washington on 2 October. During their visit, de- 
tailed data were compiled for them, presentations prepared, extensive briefings 
given, conferences convened, and consultations held. Emerging from the in- 
vestigations and appraisals was a body of positive evidence indicating that 
conditions were good and prospects improving. In fact, in the course of these 
reassurances, the Secretary of Defense decided to order a speed up of the 
planned program for release of U.S. forces. In guidance furnished at the time, 
he directed that the projected schedules for force reduction provided for in the 
currently approved Model M Plan version of the CPSVN be accelerated by 
approximately six months. Accordingly, necessary planning revisions were 
undertaken immediately on a priority basis. 

In contrast to the generally favorable military situation, however, there were 
grave misgivings about the political state of affairs. Earlier, a draft text of a 
proposed letter from the President of the United States to President Diem of the 
RVN had been forwarded by cable to the Secretary of Defense and the Ambas- 
sador, with a request for their reaction and comments. President Kennedy him- 
self thought the letter too extreme, and would reluctantly resort to it only if the 
situation was found so serious that such direct US Presidential pressure was 
necessary. The text of the proposed letter was characterized by harsh, blunt 
candor. In effect it laid down an ultimatum: unless the GVN changed the 
repressive policies, methods, and actions practiced by some individual officials 
and gained for itself a broad base of popular political support, the United 
States might have to consider disassociating itself from the Diem Government, 
and further US support of Vietnam might become impossible. The Secretary 
of Defense and the Ambassador promptly responded with a strong recom- 
mendation against transmitting the proposed letter. Both agreed that the situa- 
tion was indeed very serious, but that it was not likely to be influenced by such 
a letter to Diem. 

The proposed Presidential letter was not sent. Instead, many of the points 
were conveyed in conversations with Diem, and, just before the departure of 
the McNamara-Taylor Mission from Vietnam, another letter to President Diem 
was composed and sent in its place. The new version was not only much softer 
in tone and more circumspect but went out over the signature of General Taylor 
as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The letter was dated 1 October 1963, but 
was delivered on 2 October, with the approval of the Secretary of Defense and 
with the concurrence of the US Ambassador to Vietnam (Lodge). 

In this letter the CJCS offered his personal, professional comments on the 
military situation, in response to Diem's earlier expressed interest in receiving 
them. After acknowledging the encouraging military progress over the pre- 
ceding two years, the CJCS stated, "It was not until the recent political dis- 
turbances beginning in May and continuing through August and beyond that 
I personally had any doubt as to the ultimate success of our campaign against 
the Viet Cong." He then added: 

Now, as Secretary McNamara has told you, a serious doubt hangs over 
our hopes for the future. Can we win together in the face of the reaction 

186 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

to the measures taken by your Government against the Buddhists and the 
students? As a military man I would say that we can win providing there 
are no further political setbacks. The military indicators are still generally 
favorable and can be made more so by actions readily within the power 
of your Government. If you will allow me, I would mention a few of the 
military actions which I believe necessary for this improvement. 

The Chairman noted that though the military situation in I, II, and III Corps 
areas was generally good, some of the hard-core war zones of the Viet Cong re- 
mained virtually untouched. There were not enough offensive actions against 
the enemy in the field and, in his opinion, the full potential of the military units 
was not being exploited, for ". . . only a ruthless, tireless offensive can win the 

The principal military problems, he pointed out, were now in the Delta, and 
the time had come to concentrate efforts there. An overhaul of the Strategic 
Hamlet Program was needed. For it to succeed, there must be a related clear- 
and-hold campaign by the combat units of IV Corps, and the tactics should be 
oriented to the waterways that were a natural characteristic of the region. 
Furthermore, infantry line units would have to operate at full strength, without 
diversion of combat power to rear echelon functions. The CJCS suggested that 
this latter problem was the case in ARVN generally, which President Diem 
might want to examine closely. 

Finally he summed up what was intended as the statement of the US position: 

In closing, Mr. President, may I give you my most important overall 
impression? Up to now, the battle against the Viet Cong has seemed end- 
less; no one has been willing to set a date for its successful conclusion. 
After talking to scores of officers, Vietnamese and American, I am con- 
vinced that the Viet Cong insurgency in the north and center can be 
reduced to little more than sporadic incidents by the end of 1964. The Delta 
will take longer but should be completed by the end of 1965. But for these 
predictions to be valid, certain conditions must be met. Your Government 
should be prepared to energize all agencies, military and civil, to a higher 
output of activity than up to now. Ineffective commanders and province 
officials must be replaced as soon as identified. Finally, there should be a 
restoration of domestic tranquility on the homefront if political tensions 
are to be allayed and external criticism is to abate. Conditions are needed 
for the creation of an atmosphere conducive to an effective campaign 
directed at the objective, vital to both of us, of defeating the Viet Cong 
and of restoring peace to your community. 

The results of the survey conducted by the McNamara-Taylor mission were 
consolidated into a lengthy, formal report to the President containing specific 
findings, general evaluations, and recommendations. The substance of the report 
was presented in an hour-long, oral briefing to the President immediately upon 
the return of the mission on the morning of 2 October. Attending the briefing 
were the Under Secretary of State, the Under Secretary of State for Political 
Affairs, the Director of the CIA, and the Special Assistant to the President for 
National Security Affairs. Following the personal report, the President called a 
special meeting of the full National Security Council, which was held from six 
to seven that same evening. 

The McNamara-Taylor Report generally was optimistic about the military 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 187 

situation and saw little direct effect of the political crisis on the prosecution of 
the war. Their conclusions, inter alia, were that despite serious political tensions 
and the increasing unpopularity of the Diem-Nhu regime, "The military cam- 
paign has made great progress and continues to progress." GVN military officers, 
though hostile to the government and its repressive policies, continued to per- 
form their military duties in the larger cause of fighting the Viet Cong enemy. 
This reassuring evaluation, however, was caveated to the effect that 
"... further repressive actions by Diem and Nhu could change the present 
favorable military trends." 

Specific findings in their appraisal of the military situation bore out the gen- 
eral evaluation. In the body of the report they stated: 

With allowances for all uncertainties, it is our firm conclusion that the 
GVN military program has made great progress in the last year and a half, 
and that the progress has continued at a fairly steady rate in the past six 
months even through the period of greatest political unrest in Saigon. The 
tactics and techniques employed by the Vietnamese under U.S. monitor- 
ship are sound and give promise of ultimate victory. 

Especially noteworthy, in their view, was the progress clearly being achieved in 
the northern areas (I and II) Corps. Their appraisal of the progress of 
the Strategic Hamlet Program was also largely favorable. In both connections, 
they cited the effectiveness of the U.S. military advisory and support effort. 
Included among their military recommendations were: 

a. General Harkins [COMUSMACV] review with Diem the military 
changes necessary to complete the military campaign in the Northern 
and Central areas (I, II, III Corps) by the end of 1964, and in the 
Delta (IV Corps) by the end of 1965. 

b. A program be established to train Vietnamese so that essential functions 
now performed by U.S. military personnel can be carried out by Viet- 
namese by the end of 1965. It should be possible to withdraw the bulk 
of U.S. personnel by that time. 

c. In accordance with the program to train progressively Vietnamese to 
take over military functions, the Defense Department should announce 
in the near future presently prepared plans to withdraw 1000 U.S. mil- 
itary personnel by the end of 1963. This action should be explained in 
low key as an initial step in a long-term program to replace U.S. per- 
sonnel with trained Vietnamese without impairment of the war effort. 

Germane to the above recommendations, however, it was stated elsewhere in 
the report, "No further reductions should be made until the requirements of the 
1964 campaign become firm." 

Following the NSC meeting of 2 October, the White House issued a formal 
purlic announcement of the major policy aspects of the McNamara-Taylor 
Mission Report. The White House statement is reproduced below. 


Secretary [of Defense Robert S.] McNamara and General [Maxwell 
D.] Taylor reported to the President this morning and to the National 
Security Council this afternoon. Their report included a number of classified 

188 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

findings and recommendations which will be the subject of further review 
and action. Their basic presentation was endorsed by all members of the 
Security Council and the following statement of United States policy was 
approved by the President on the basis of recommendations received from 
them and from Ambassador [Henry Cabot] Lodge. 

1. The security of South Viet-Nam is a major interest of the United 
States as other free nations. We will adhere to our policy of working with 
the people and Government of South Viet-Nam to deny this country to 
communism and to suppress the externally stimulated and supported in- 
surgency of the Viet Cong as promptly as possible. Effective performance 
in this undertaking is the central objective of our policy in South Viet-Nam. 

2. The military program in South Viet-Nam has made progress and is 
sound in principle, though improvements are being energetically sought. 

3. Major U.S. assistance in support of this military effort is needed only 
until the insurgency has been suppressed or until the national security forces 
of the Government of South Viet-Nam are capable of suppressing it. 

Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgment that 
the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 
1965, although there may be a continuing requirement for a limited number 
of U.S. training personnel. They reported that by the end of this year, the 
U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point 
where 1,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to South Viet-Nam can be 

4. The political situation in South Viet-Nam remains deeply serious. 
The United States had made clear its continuing opposition to any repres- 
sive actions in South Viet-Nam. While such actions have not yet sig- 
nificantly affected the military effort, they could do so in the future. 

5. It remains the policy of the United States, in South Viet-Nam as in 
other parts of the world, to support the efforts of the people of that country 
to defeat aggression and to build a peaceful and free society. 

Considerable emphasis was given to the White House statement, and to the 
McNamara-Taylor Mission generally, in news media. Played up particularly 
was the U.S. force withdrawal, especially the prospective 1000-man reduction. 

Three days later, on 5 October, in another meeting with the President, fol- 
lowed by another NSC meeting, the McNamara-Taylor recommendations 
themselves were addressed. The President "approved the military recommenda- 
tions contained in the report." The President also directed, in line with their 
suggestion, that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of 
plans to withdraw 1000 U.S. military personnel from South Vietnam by the end 
of 1963. 

The effect of the McNamara-Taylor mission, thus, was to revalidate the exist- 
ing U.S. policy position regarding Vietnam. Reaffirmed were the military ob- 
jectives, courses of action, and programs essentially as they were laid out by the 
Secretary of Defense at the Honolulu Conference over a year earlier on 23 
July 1962. The underlying premises and soundness of the rationale seemed more 
cogent than ever. In fact, a new impetus was thereby given to pursing the 
same goals with even greater thrust and purpose. Such an outcome could have 
been forecast, as noted earlier, when Mr. McNamara set in motion another 
CPSVN planning cycle to revise the Model M Plan and develop an accelerated 
plan to withdraw U.S. forces. 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 189 

Part of the motivation behind the stress placed on U.S. force withdrawal, 
and particularly the seemingly arbitrary desire to effect the 1000-man reduc- 
tion by the end of 1963, apparently was as a signal to influence both the North 
Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese and set the stage for possible later steps 
that would help bring the insurgency to an end. With regard to the SVN, the 
demonstration of determination to pull out U.S. forces was intended to induce 
the South Vietnamese to increase the effectiveness of their military effort. State's 
instructions to Ambassador Lodge resulting from NSC action on the Mc- 
Namara-Taylor mission indicated that: 

Actions are designed to indicate to Diem Government our displeasure 
at its political policies and activities and to create significant uncertainty in 
that government and in key Vietnamese groups as to future intentions of 
United States. At same time, actions are designed to have at most slight 
impact on military or counterinsurgency effort against Viet Cong, at least 
in short term. . . . 

With respect to Hanoi, it might present an opportunity for a demarche — ex- 
ploiting withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Vietnam by a specified date as 
exchange for North Vietnam's abandoning its aggression against South Vietnam. 
But events were already conspiring otherwise, and would soon frustrate such 
expectations and intentions as developed. The internal SVN situation was about 
to undergo rapid transformation. 

By late October, there was increasing skepticism in some quarters about the 
military situation in South Vietnam. Indeed, it was beginning to be suspected 
that reports of progress by U.S. military sources actually cloaked a situation that 
was not only bleak, but deteriorating. A State Department intelligence evaluation 
of 22 October showed markedly pessimistic statistical trends since July 1963, in 
most areas of enemy-friendly relative progress measurement, indicating an un- 
favorable shift in the military balance. What was disquieting was that the pat- 
tern showed steady decline over a period of more than three months' duration. 

Circulation of the INR evaluation occasioned controversy and no little re- 
crimination. Substantive differences degenerated into a procedural issue. The 
outcome was a personal memorandum from the Secretary of State to the Sec- 
retary of Defense on 8 November, amounting to an apology for the incident. 
The Secretary of State stated in regard to INR's RFE-90 of 22 October: 

.... It is not the policy of the State Department to issue military ap- 
praisals without seeking the views of the Defense Department. I have re- 
quested that any memoranda given inter-departmental circulation which 
include military appraisals be coordinated with your Department. 


On 1 November, the political situation fell apart. The long-anticipated coup 
occurred. The Diem regime was overthrown, and both Diem and Nhu were 
assassinated. A military junta of politically inexperienced generals took over the 
government as their successors. 

The significance of the great change, for good or ill, was not readily apparent. 
Over the next three weeks the feared political chaos, civil war, and collapse of 
the war effort following a coup did not seem to be materializing. For the United 

190 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

States, the important question was what did the new circumstances mean mil- 
itarily for existing policy and plans oriented to bringing the insurgency under 
control and to phasing out US force commitments. 

On 20 November, at the President's direction, a special all-agencies conference 
on Vietnam was convened in Honolulu for a "full-scale review" in depth of all 
aspects of the situation and to reassess U.S. plans and policies in the political, 
military, economic and information fields since the change of government. At- 
tending were some 45 senior U.S. officials, military and civilian, including: 
the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Special Assistant to the President 
for National Security Affairs, Chairman, JCS, Director of CIA, CINCPAC, am- 
bassador to Vietnam, and COMUSMACV. Ambassador Lodge assessed the 
prospects for Vietnam as hopeful. In his estimation the new government was not 
without promise. Vietnamese military leadership appeared to be united and 
determined to step up the war effort. The Ambassador advocated continuing to 
pursue the goal of setting dates for phasing out U.S. activities and turning them 
over to the Vietnamese, and he volunteered that the announced withdrawal of 
1000 troops by the end of 1963 was already having a salutary effect. 
COMUSMACV agreed with the Ambassador that the conduct of the war against 
the VC was coming along satisfactorily. Admitting that the VC-incidents rate 
shot up 300 to 400 percent after the coup, he noted that since 6 November, how- 
ever, it had dropped down to "normal" and remained so to the present. Mil- 
itary operational statistics now generally showed a more or less favorable 
balance. In short, the briefings and assessments received at the conference con- 
stituted "an encouraging outlook for the principal objective of joint U.S. -Viet- 
namese policy in South Vietnam — the successful prosecution of the war against 
the Viet Cong communists." Moreover, "excellent working relations between 
U.S. officials and the members of the new Vietnamese government" had been 
established. All plans for the U.S. phasing out were to go ahead as scheduled. 

In this light the U.S. military plans and programs for Vietnam were addressed. 
The revision of the Model M Plan of the CPSVN, ordered by the Secretary of 
Defense during his last visit to Vietnam in October was progressing apace and 
the finished Accelerated Plan was expected to be forwarded shortly. It would 
cost $6.4 million more than the Model Plan, however. Indications were that the 
FY 64 MAP would also cost more because of the acceleration — to a total now 
of $187.5 million. The Secretary of Defense made it clear that he felt that the 
proposed CINCPAC MAP could be cut back and directed that the program be 
reviewed to refine it and cut costs to stay as close as possible to the OSD ceiling 
of $175.5 million. He was equally emphatic, however, that while he would not 
tolerate fat or inefficiency in the program he was prepared to provide whatever 
funds might be required under MAP to support the GVN. In fact, he observed 
that the GVN was already running into "tremendous financial deficits," and 
opined that neither AID nor MAP had budgeted enough to provide for the 
emergencies which were likely to arise during 1964. 


On 22 November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. The con- 
sequences were to set an institutional freeze on the direction and momentum 
of U.S. Vietnam policy. Universally operative was a desire to avoid change of 
any kind during the critical interregnum period of the new Johnson Administra- 
tion. Both the President and the governmental establishment consciously strove 
for continuity, with respect to Vietnam no less than in other areas. In Vietnam 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 191 

this continuity meant that the phase-out concept, the CPSVN withrdawal plan, 
and the MAP programs probably survived beyond the point they might have 

The immediate Johnson stamp on the Kennedy policy came on 26 November. 
At a NSC meeting convened to consider the results of the 20 November Hono- 
lulu Conference, the President "reaffirmed that U.S. objectives with respect to 
withdrawal of U.S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House state- 
ment of October 2, 1963." The only hint that something might be different 
from on-going plans came in a Secretary of Defense memo for the President 
three days prior to this NSC meeting. In that memo, Mr. McNamara said that the 
new South Vietnamese government was confronted by serious financial prob- 
lems, and that the U.S. must be prepared to raise planned MAP levels. 

In early December, the President began to have, if not second thoughts, at 
least a sense of uneasiness about Vietnam. In discussions with his advisors, he 
set in motion what he hoped would be a major policy review, fully staffed in 
depth, by Administration principals. The President wanted "a fresh new look 
taken" at the whole problem. In preparation for such a basic reappraisal, an 
interdepartmental meeting of second-echelon principals accordingly convened 
on 3 December and laid out a broad outline of basic topics to be addressed and 
staff papers to be developed by various departments and agencies. This attempt 
at a systematic and comprehensive reexamination, however, did not culminate 
in a fundamental national reassessment. 


With no indication of policy change in the offing, U.S. military planning thus 
went forward with hardly a break in stride. On 5 December CINCPAC sub- 
mitted the Accelerated Model Plan to the JCS. It was the revision to the Model 
M Plan version of the CPSVN that the Secretary of Defense had ordered dur- 
ing his early October visit to Vietnam. The Accelerated Plan provided for more 
rapid phase-out of the bulk of U.S. military personnel and units and a decrease 
in the residual strength remaining thereafter. It also provided for building up 
GVN forces at a faster pace but on a more reduced scale, then cutting back 
from peak sooner and leveling out somewhat lower. MAP costs for the FY 
1965-69 period would be little higher than the $392.2 million under the Model 
M Plan, coming to $399.4 million in the Acelerated Plan. 


During the month of December, the planned 1000-man reduction was ex- 
ecuted. It proved essentially an accounting exercise. Technically, more than a 
thousand U.S. personnel did leave, but many of these were part of the normal 
turnover cycle, inasmuch as rotation policy alone, not to mention medical 
evacuation or administrative reasons, resulted in an average rate of well over a 
thousand returnees per month. Though the replacement pipeline was slowed 
somewhat, year-end total in-country strength nevertheless was close to 16,000. 
This did not even represent a decline of 1000 from the October peak of 16,732. 

That the avowed goal of 1000 would not be reached had in fact been 
anticipated and acknowledged before mid-December. Despite close monitoring 
of authorized ceilings and actual strengths, the force level kept rising. On 11 
December, for example, the estimate of projected year-end U.S. strength in 
Vietnam had to be revised upward to reflect additional deployments approved 

192 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

since September. The adjusted figure now came to 15,894, a net increase of 
162 over the earlier estimate. This new strength ceiling was what would be left 
after the 1000-man withdrawal then in progress was completed. 

III. 1964 


In December conflicting estimates of the situation in Vietnam indicated that 
the bright hopes and predictions of the past were increasingly less than realistic. 
A McNamara memo to the President written following a trip to Vietnam of 21 
December, was laden with gloom. [Doc. 156] He wrote: "The situation is very 
disturbing. Current trends, unless reversed in the next 2-3 months, will lead to 
neutralization at best and more likely to a communist-controlled state." He went 
on to note that "the new government is the greatest source of concern," and that 
"it is indecisive and drifting." The Country Team, he added, "lacks leadership, 
and has been poorly informed." One of the most serious deficiencies he found was 
a "grave reporting weakness" on the U.S. side. "Viet Cong progress has been great 
during the period since the coup, with my best guess being that the situation has in 
fact been deteriorating in the countryside since July to a far greater extent than 
we realize because of our undue dependence on distorted Vietnamese reporting." 
Mr. McNamara clearly concluded that none of these conditions could be re- 
versed by the influx of more American personnel, nor did he even mention that 
the U.S could continue to withdraw troops at all or as scheduled. His proposal 
was to hold the line: "U.S. resources and personnel," he said, "cannot usefully 
be substantially increased. . . ." although he did announce his intention to in- 
crease staffs "to sizes that will give us a reliable, independent U.S. appraisal 
of the status of operations." In his concluding paragraph, however, the 
Secretary of Defense admitted that his own estimate "may be overly pessimistic," 
inasmuch as the Ambassador, COMUSMACV, and General Minh were not dis- 
couraged and looked forward to significant improvements in January. [Doc. 156] 

Vestiges of optimism still persisted in one degree or another in some quarters. 
The earlier sense of confidence that had been established was deep-rooted and 
not easily shaken. A retrospective evaluation of the Vietnam situation ostensibly 
covering the period 1960 through 1963, prepared by SACSA (General Krulak) 
is indicative. Although intended as a broad overview (and so called), and though 
actually cut off as of sometime in October 1963, it was forwarded in 
late October or November directly to the Secretary of Defense. The SACSA 
report presented nothing less than a glowing account of steady progress across 
the board in the military situation. Significantly, it contained no hint that the 
rate of progress possibly might have temporarily slowed somewhat in the second 
half of 1963, despite the fact that it expressly treated events as late as October. 
Yet by this time, other evaluations giving a quite different picture were already 
asserting themselves. Near the close of 1963 the Director, DIA, reported to the 
Secretary of Defense that year-end review and reassessment of the enemy situa- 
tion revealed VC capabilities had not been impaired over the past year. On the 
contrary, the VC had in many regards improved in combat effectiveness and now 
enjoyed a generally improved force posture for insurgency. 

Hopeful bias alone does not explain the endurance of past firmly rooted op- 
timism — such as the SACSA overview. The difference between those who 
stressed the positive and those who saw decline was, in part, the product of view- 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 193 

ing the situation in greater or shorter time frames. Those who applied a macro- 
scopic perspective, believed — and not without certain logic — that current 
unfavorable reports were, at worse, a temporary lapse in the larger curve of 
progress over the years. Those who took spot checks tended to be more im- 
pressed by the immediate situation, and at this time, the immediate situation 
was critical. The feelings of this latter group were buttressed when on 30 Jan- 
uary another coup, this time largely bloodless, ousted the ruling Minh govern- 
ment. It was a factional power struggle in which one military group replaced 
another, this time with General Khanh emerging as Premier. The latest develop- 
ment held forth little promise of giving the country the political stability so 
desperately needed in the midst of a war for survival. The event would prove 
only symptomatic as part of a sequence of similar government upheavals that 
were to follow. 

In the U.S., the coincidence of domestic tragedy and patent instability in 
Vietnam evoked a chorus urging a Laos-like resolution of the Vietnam conflict. 
In late August, 1963, President de Gaulle had issued a policy statement on Viet- 
nam which was subsequently officially interpreted as a proposal for "independence 
and neutrality" for Vietnam — meaning eventual U.S. withdrawal. In the after- 
math of the assassinations, speculation turned increasingly to this solution. For 
example, Senator Mansfield wrote to President Johnson to propose a division 
of Vietnam between the GVN and the Viet Cong, coupled with a U.S. 
withdrawal. In early January, 1964, Secretary McNamara furnished the Pres- 
ident the following counters to Senator Mansfield's arguments: 

1. We should certainly stress that the war is essentially a Vietnamese 
responsibility, and this we have repeatedly done, particularly in our an- 
nounced policy on U.S. troop withdrawal. At the same time we cannot 
disengage U.S. prestige to any significant degree. . . . 

2. The security situation is serious, but we can still win, even on present 
ground rules. . . . 

3 Any deal either to divide the present territory of South Viet- 
nam or to "neutralize" South Vietnam would inevitably mean a new 
government in Saigon that would in short order become Communist-dom- 

4. The consequences of a Communist-dominated South Vietnam are 
extremely serious both for the rest of Southeast Asia and for the U.S. posi- 
tion in the rest of Asia and indeed in other key areas of the world. . . . 

5. Thus, the stakes in preserving an anti-Communist South Vietnam are 
so high that, in our judgment, we must go on bending every effort to win. 
. . . And, I am confident that the American people are by and large in 
favor of a policy of firmness and strength in such situations. 

Secretary McNamara in his testimony before Congress on the fiscal year 1965 
budget in early February, 1964, declined to link the previously planned U.S. 
withdrawals with either "pessimism" or "optimism" regarding events in Vietnam, 
saying simply that the withdrawals had all along been conditioned upon Viet- 
namese capability to assume full responsibility from the U.S. trainers, and that 
there would be a "substantial reduction in our force as we train them." Further: 

Last fall ... I wasn't as optimistic perhaps about the course of the war 
as I was about being able to bring back our personnel in certain numbers 
by the end of last year and also in increments between then and the end 
of 1965. 

I still am hopeful of doing that. We did, of course, bring back 1,000 men 

194 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. 11 

toward the latter part of last year. I am hopeful we can bring back ad- 
ditional numbers of men later this year and certainly next year. I say this 
because I personally believe that this is a war that the Vietnamese must 
fight ... I don't believe we can take on that combat task for them. I do 
believe we can carry out training. We can provide advice and logistical as- 

But after all, the training, by the very nature of the work, comes to an 
end at a certain point. We will have started this expanded training and 
carried it out for a period of 4 years, by the end of next year. We started 
at the end of 1961. The end of next year will have been 4 years later and 
certainly we should have completed the majority of the training task by that 
time. This, in General Taylor's view and mine, is what we should be able to 
do. If we do, we should bring our men back. 

I don't believe we should leave our men there to substitute for 
Vietnamese men who are qualified to carry out the task, and this is really 
the heart of our proposal. I think it was a sound proposal then and I think 
so now. . . . 

Unsureness about the actual state of affairs in Washington spread eventually 
to the highest levels of government, and prompted the dispatching to South 
Vietnam in early February of a CIA "Special CAS Group" for an independent 
evaluation of the military situation. A series of four reports, dated 10, 11, 14 
and 18 February 1964, were produced, each transmitted by the Deputy 
Director, CIA, to the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and others as 
soon as it came out. Instead of finding progress, these reported a serious and 
steadily deteriorating situation. Cited were VC gains in the past several months, 
and particularly noted was that VC arms were increasing in quantity and quality. 
As for the Strategic Hamlet Program, they found it "at present at virutal stand- 
still." The Special CAS Group's concluding appraisal was pessimistic: "Tide of 
insurgency in all four corps areas appears to be going against GVN." COMU- 
SMACV (who had no prior knowledge of the Special CAS Group's reports) took 
issue with the Group's findings, contesting less the date used than the conclu- 
sions, especially the "personal" evaluational opinions as to degree of deteriora- 
tion. He suggested that in the future such reports be first coordinated before 
being dispatched. 

On 6 March a major Secretary of Defense Conference again convened at 
CINCPAC headquarters for a broad reassessment. The consensus was that the 
military situation was definitely deteriorating. No longer was the issue whether 
it was progressing satisfactorily or not. The question now was how much of a 
setback had there been and what was needed to make up for it. An opinion 
shared by many was that the insurgency could be expected to go beyond 1965. 
This general reorientation of perspective was reflected in the Secretary of 
Defense's observation that attention should be focused on the near-term ob- 
jectives of providing the greater U.S. support that would be necessary, and sus- 
pending for the time being consideration of longer-range concerns such as 5- 
year MAP projections. The visit to Vietnam on 8 March corroborated 
the gravity of the immediate problems at hand. 

Following his return from Vietnam, Mr. McNamara, on 16 March, sub- 
mitted to the President a formal report. In it the Secretary of Defense acknowl- 
edged, "The situation has unquestionably been growing worse, at least since 
September." RVNAF desertion rates were increasing, and the GVN military 
position generally was weakening noticeably. The VC position, on the other 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 195 

hand, showed signs of improving. He referred pointedly to the increase in North 
Vietnamese support. The conclusion was that greater U.S. support was needed. 

In describing what was required to improve the situation in South Vietnam, 
Mr. McNamara identified measures that "will involve a limited increase in U.S. 
personnel and in direct Defense Department costs. More significantly they in- 
volve significant increases in Military Assistance Program costs. . . .," plus 
"additional U.S. economic aid to support the increased GVN budget." The es- 
timated additional annual MAP costs would come to between $30 and $40 mil- 
lion each year, plus a one-time additional cost of $20 million for military 
equipment. In the recommendation section of the report, the Secretary listed 
the following 12 items: 

1. To make it clear that we are prepared to furnish assistance and support 
to South Vietnam for as long as it takes to bring the insurgency under 

2. To make it clear that we fully support the Khanh government and are 
opposed to any further coups. 

3. To support a Program for National Mobilization (including a national 
service law) to put South Vietnam on a war footing. 

4. To assist the Vietnamese to increase the armed forces (regular plus para- 
military) by at least 50,000 men. 

5. To assist the Vietnamese to create a greatly enlarged Civil Administra- 
tive Corps for work at province, district and hamlet levels. 

6. To assist the Vietnamese to improve and reorganize the para-military 
forces and to increase their compensation. 

7. To assist the Vietnamese to create an offensive guerrilla force. 

8. To provide the Vietnamese Air Force 25 A-1H aircraft in exchange for 
the present T-28s. 

9. To provide the Vietnamese army additional M-113 armored personnel 
carriers (withdrawing the M-114s there), additional river boats, and 
approximately $5-10 million of other additional material. 

10. To announce publicly the Fertilizer Program and to expand it with 
a view within two years to trebling the amount of fertilizer made avail- 

11. To authorize continued high-level U.S. overflights of South Vietnam's 
borders and to authorize "hot pursuit" and South Vietnamese ground 
operations over the Laotian line for the purpose of border control. 
More ambitious operations into Laos involving units beyond battalion 
size should be authorized only with the approval of Souvanna Phouma. 
Operations across the Cambodian border should depend on the state of 
relations with Cambodia. 

12. To prepare immediately to be in a position on 72 hours' notice to ini- 
tiate the full range of Laotian and Cambodian "Border Control" actions 
(beyond those authorized in paragraph 11 above) and the "Retaliatory 
Action" against North Vietnam, and to be in a position on 30 days' 
notice to initiate the program of "Graduated Overt Military Pressure" 
against North Vietnam. 

As for the future of the phased-withdrawal plans, the Secretary of Defense's 
report contained the following: 

The U.S. policy of reducing existing personnel where South Vietnamese 
are in a position to assume the functions is still sound. Its application will 

196 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

not lead to any major reductions in the near future, but adherence to this 
policy as such has a sound effect in portraying to the U.S. and the world 
that we continue to regard the war as a conflict the South Vietnamese must 
win and take ultimate responsibility for. Substantial reductions in the num- 
bers of U.S. military training personnel should be possible before the end 
of 1965. However, the U.S. should continue to reiterate that it will provide 
all the assistance and advice required to do the job regardless of how long 
it takes. [Doc. 158] 

By formal decision at the NSC session of 17 March, the President approved 
the Secretary of Defense report of 16 March 1964 and directed all agencies to 
carry out the 12 recommendations contained therein. A White House statement, 
reproduced below, was issued the same day. 

March 17, 1964 


Office of the White House Press Secretary 


Secretary McNamara and General Taylor, following their initial oral 
report of Friday, today reported fully to President Johnson and the mem- 
bers of the National Security Council. The report covered the situation in 
South Vietnam, the measures being taken by General Khanh and his 
government, and the need for United States assistance to supplement and 
support these measures. There was also discussion of the continuing sup- 
port and direction of the Viet Cong insurgency from North Vietnam. 

At the close of the meeting the President accepted the report and its 
principal recommendations, which had the support of the National Security 
Council and Ambassador Lodge. 

Comparing the situation to last October, when Secretary McNamara 
and General Taylor last reported fully on it, there have unquestionably 
been setbacks. The Viet Cong have taken maximum advantage of two 
changes of government, and of more long-standing difficulties, including 
a serious weakness and over-extension which had developed in the basically 
sound hamlet program. The supply of arms and cadres from the north has 
continued; careful and sophisticated control of Viet Cong operations has 
been apparent; and evidence that such control is centered in Hanoi is clear 
and unmistakable. 

To meet the situation, General Khanh and his government are acting 
vigorously and effectively. They have produced a sound central plan for 
the prosecution of the war, recognizing to a far greater degree than before 
the crucial role of economic and social, as well as military, action to ensure 
that areas cleared of the Viet Cong survive and prosper in freedom. 

To carry out this plan, General Khanh requires the full enlistment of 
the people of South Vietnam, partly to augment the strength of his anti- 
guerrilla forces, but particularly to provide the administrators, health 
workers, teachers and others who must follow up in cleared areas. To meet 
this need, and to provide a more equitable and common basis of service, 
General Khanh has informed us that he proposes in the near future to put 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 197 

into effect a National Mobilization Plan that will provide conditions and 
terms of service in appropriate jobs for all able-bodied South Vietnamese 
between certain ages. 

In addition, steps are required to bring up to required levels the pay and 
status of the paramilitary forces and to create a highly trained guerrilla 
force that can beat the Viet Cong on its own ground. Finally, limited but 
significant additional equipment is proposed for the air forces, the river 
navy, and the mobile forces. 

In short, where the South Vietnamese Government now has the power 
to clear any part of its territory, General Khanh's new program is designed 
to clear and to hold, step by step and province by province. 

This program will involve substantial increases in cost to the South Viet- 
namese economy, which in turn depends heavily on United States economic 
aid. Additional, though less substantial, military assistance funds are also 
needed, and increased United States training activity both on the civil and 
military side. The policy should continue of withdrawing United States 
personnel where their roles can be assumed by South Vietnamese and of 
sending additional men if they are needed. It will remain the policy of the 
United States to furnish assistance and support to South Vietnam for as 
long as it is required to bring Communist aggression and terrorism under 

Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their overall con- 
clusion that with continued vigorous leadership from General Khanh and 
his government, and the carrying out of these steps, the situation can be 
significantly improved in the coming months. 


Before the month of March was over the CPSVN, as well as the MAP plan- 
ning that had been such an integral part of it, finally received the coup de grace. 
Sacrificed to the U.S. desire "to make it clear that we fully support" the GVN, 
they were formally terminated, for the record, on 27 March in the OSD message 
reproduced below: 

FROM: OSD WASH DC DEF 963208 Date: 27 March 1964 

(Col. W. J. Yates) 
REFS: a. CINCPAC Mar 64 

b. DEF 959615 DTG Mar 64 

1. As indicated in ref. b., ceiling for Vietnam FY 66 MAP is $143.0 
million against $143.1 million for FY 65. Requirements above these pro- 
gram levels should be identified as separate packages. 

2. Submission of five-year programs FY 66-70 for Vietnam is suspended 
until further notice. Your best estimates of FY 66 requirements are neces- 
sary inasmuch line detail as feasible by 1 Jul 64 in order that (a) the Mil- 
itary Departments can review for pricing, lead time, availabilities, and 
prepare for procurement action and (b) requirements can be processed 

198 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

within DoD, State/AID and BoB for budget/Congressional Presentation 

3. Previous guidance re Model Plan projection for phasedown of U.S. 
forces and GVN forces is superseded. Policy is as announced by White 
House 17 Mar 64: Quote The policy should continue of withdrawing U.S. 
personnel where their roles can be assumed by South Vietnamese and of 
sending additional men if they are needed. It will remain the policy of the 
U.S. to furnish assistance and support of South Vietnam for as long as is 
required to bring Communist aggression and terrorism under control. 

4. No further action required or being taken here relative to accelerated 
model plan. 

Thus ended de jure the policy of phase out and withdrawal and all the plans 
and programs oriented to it. Shortly, they would be cancelled out de facto. 


Soon the whole evolutionary direction of the U.S. military commitment began 
to change. Rather than diminishing, the magnitude rose thereafter. In early 
May the approved U.S. military strength ceiling for South Vietnam was raised 
by more than 1500 so that total in-country authorization came to over 17,000. 
Further increases were in sight. As the military situation in Vietnam failed to 
show signs of ameliorating, pressures began to develop in late spring for an 
even more significant increase in U.S. forces. 

A special meeting on Southeast Asia was called at PACOM Headquarters in 
Honolulu for 1-2 June because of the unsatisfactory progress in execution of the 
National Pacification Plan. There, COMUSMACV proposed extending and 
intensifying the U.S. advisory effort in order to improve the operational ef- 
fectiveness of the VNAF performance generally. The idea was discussed and 
supported in principle, and a staff working paper outlining the concept was 
prepared by the conferees. Near the end of June, COMUSMACV submitted to 
JCS (info CINCPAC, DOD, State, White House) his formal proposal recom- 
mending enlargement of the advisory assistance program. He reiterated, and 
offered further justification for, the need to augment the current advisory detach- 
ments at the battalion level and to extend the advisory effort at both the district 
and sector levels. His detailed breakout of primary personnel requirements came 
to a total of 9000 more advisors as the net in-country increase, but conceded 
that additional administrative and logistic support requirements would be sub- 
stantial and would be submitted separately. Also, approximately 80 additional 
U.S. Navy advisors would be requested, in connection with recommendations 
made earlier in the "Bucklew Report" for a Junk Force and other measures to 
counter infiltration by sea. CINCPAC indicated concurrence and recommended 
approval of the proposal on 4 July. 

In the middle of July, the new U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, General Max- 
well Taylor, sent an evaluation of the military situation to the Secretary of State, 
Secretary of Defense, and JCS that lent strong support to COMUSMACV's 
proposal. The Ambassador advised that formal estimates of regular VC strength 
in South Vietnam had been revised and now were raised to between 28,000 and 
34,000. He explained that this did not reflect a sudden dramatic increase, but 

Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 199 

had been suspected for the past two or three years, though confirmatory 
evidence had become available only in the last few months. There was thus no 
occasion for alarm, but the new estimate emphasized the growing magnitude 
of the problem and the need to increase the level of U.S./GVN efforts. There- 
fore, additional requirements were being formulated, including U.S. military 
personnel requirements, to support U.S. plans during the ensuing months to 
cope with the new understanding of the realities of the situation. He forecast 
an increase in U.S. military strength to around 21,000 over the next six-month 
period to meet projected needs. 

Immediately the size of the estimated force requirements connected with 
the proposed expansion of the advisory effort began to climb. On 16 July 
COMUSMACV submitted the support requirements associated with the pro- 
gram. For the next year he would need, over and above the original 900 ad- 
ditional advisors requested, more than 3200 other personnel, for a total gross 
military strength increase of about 4200. The Ambassador in Saigon concurred 
in COMUSMACV's proposed increase in U.S. military strength by 4200 over 
the next nine months, bringing the total in-country to nearly 22,000, and he 
urged prompt action. The Secretary of State also recommended approval, as did 
CINCPAC and JCS, and on 20 July, at the JCS-SecDef meeting, overall support 
was given to the COMUSMACV requested deployment package. The following 
day, at the NSC meeting of 21 July, the President gave it final approval, though 
that action was not included in the NSAM issued the next day. 

As eventually refined, the total force increment actually came to over 4900 
U.S. personnel. In addition, other requirements not directly related to the ad- 
visory effort itself were being generated and met independently. By the close of 
1964 the year-end U.S. in-country strength figure had climbed to approximately 
23,000 personnel and further authorized deployments were under way or in 

The actual effect of "phased withdrawals" was minimal. Though 1,000 spaces 
among the personnel authorized MACV were eliminated in 1963, add-ons over- 
took cut-backs. As an example, U.S. Army strength in Vietnam — the bulk of 
the advisory effort — was allocated as follows: 


Total Army Hq & Spt Aviation Communica- Special Other 

Strength Units Units tion Units Forces Advisers 

Nov 63 10,000 17 35 15 6 27 

Mar 64 10,000 19 34 13 7 27 

Nov 64 14,000 28 30 12 8 22 


The official termination of formal planning towards withdrawal by no means 
ended its attraction as one issue in the growing public debate over Vietnam 
policy. In August, 1964, the Tonkin Gulf crisis brought Congressmen back in 
perplexity to Secretary McNamara's statements on withdrawals, and elicited the 
following exchange: 

. . . [Secretary McNamara, you] have again always indicated that you 
hoped that by the end of this year there would have been a substantial 
reduction . . . Where we had a planned reduction of the number of troops, 

200 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

and what appeared to be a withdrawal of the United States from the area, 
then this attack comes, which would put us firmly in the area, or at least 
change our mind. The whole thing, to me, is completely, at least, not under- 

SECRETARY McNAMARA: The period, December 1961, through 
the summer of 1963 was a period of great progress within South Vietnam, 
in countering the effort of the Viet Cong to overthrow that government. 
However, starting in May, 1963, you will recall, a series of religious riots 
developed, controversy within the country developed, leading eventually 
upon November 2nd to the overthrow of the Diem government. Prior to 
that time in September, 1963, General Taylor and I had advised and visited 
that country. At that time, the progress of the counter insurgency effort 
was so great it appeared that we would be able to withdraw much of our 
training force by the end of 1965, and not 1964, and we would — we so 
stated upon our return. But following that — and I should also mention 
that in that same statement, we made in September, 1963, we pointed out 
the very serious nature of the political difficulties that were building up in 
South Vietnam, because of the conflict between the Buddhists and the 
Catholics, and the government. 

In any event, as I say, in November, 1963, the government was over- 
thrown. There was another change of government January 30th, and this 
completely changed the outlook and the political instability that followed the 
two coups has given the Viet Cong an opportunity to take advantage of 
the political and military weakness. They have taken advantage of it. 
It is now necessary to add further U.S. military assistance to counter that 
Viet Cong offensive. . . . 

We have never made the statement since September, 1963, that we be- 
lieved we could bring the bulk of the training forces out by the end of 1965, 
because the actions in November and January made it quite clear that 
would not be possible. 

We have said — as a matter of fact, I say today — as our training missions 
are completed, we will bring back the training forces. I think this is only 
good sense, and good judgment. We have certain training missions that I 
hope we can complete this year, and others next year, and the forces as- 
sociated with those missions should be brought back. 

We have forces there training the Vietnamese to fly spotter aircraft, for 
artillery spotting purposes. I am very hopeful that we can bring the U.S. 
forces out as the Vietnamese acquire that capability. 

On the other hand, the Vietnamese quite clearly need additional as- 
sistance in training for counter guerilla operations, because of the 
increased guerrilla activities of the Viet Cong, and we are sending additional 
special forces to Vietnam for that purpose. 

There will be a flow in both directions, but I am certain in the next sev- 
eral months the net flow will be strongly toward South Vietnam. 

After Tonkin Gulf, the policy objective of gradual disengagement from Viet- 
nam was no longer relevant. The hope, as well as the concept of phase out and 
withdrawal, dwindled, since such withdrawal was now seen as tantamount to 
surrendering SVN to Hanoi. The issue for the future would no longer be with- 
drawals, but what additional U.S. forces would be required to stem the tide — 
and how fast they would have to be thrown into the breach. 


4. The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, 
May-November, 1963 

Summary and Analysis 

The Diem coup was one of those critical events in the history of U.S. policy 
that could have altered our commitment. The choices were there: (1) continue 
to plod along in a limited fashion with Diem — despite his and Nhu's growing 
unpopularity; (2) encourage or tacitly support the overthrow of Diem, taking 
the risk that the GVN might crumble and/or acommodate to the VC; and (3) 
grasp the opportunity — with the obvious risks — of the political instability in 
South Vietnam to disengage. The first option was rejected because of the belief 
that we could not win with Diem-Nhu. The third was very seriously con- 
sidered a policy alternative because of the assumption that an independent, non- 
communist SVN was too important a strategic interest to abandon — and be- 
cause the situation was not sufficiently drastic to call into question so basic an 
assumption. The second course was chosen mainly for the reasons the first was 
rejected — Vietnam was thought too important; we wanted to win; and the 
rebellious generals seemed to offer that prospect. 

In making the choice to do nothing to prevent the coup and to tacitly 
support it, the U.S. inadvertently deepened its involvement. The inadvertence is 
the key factor. It was a situation without good alternatives. While Diem's gov- 
ernment offered some semblance of stability and authority, its repressive actions 
against the Buddhists had permanently alientated popular support, with a high 
probability of victory for the Viet Cong. As efficient as the military coup leaders 
appeared, they were without a manageable base of political support. When they 
came to power and when the lid was taken off the Diem-Nhu reporting system, 
the GVN position was revealed as weak and deteriorating. And, by virtue of its 
interference in internal Vietnamese affairs, the U.S. had assumed a significant 
responsibility for the new regime, a responsibility which heightened our com- 
mitment and deepened our involvement. 

The catalytic event that precipitated the protracted crisis which ended in the 
downfall of the Diem regime was a badly handled Buddhist religious protest in 
Hue on May 8, 1963. In and of itself the incident was hardly something to 
shake the foundations of power of most modern rulers, but the manner in which 
Diem responded to it, and the subsequent protests which it generated, was pre- 
cisely the one most likely to aggravate not alleviate the situation. At stake, of 
course, was far more than a religious issue. The Buddhist protest had a pro- 
foundly political character from the beginning. It sprang and fed upon the feel- 
ings of political frustration and repression Diem's autocratic rule had 

The beginning of the end for Diem can, then, be traced through events to the 
regime's violent suppression of a Buddhist protest demonstration in Hue on 
Buddha's birthday, May 8, in which nine people were killed and another four- 
teen injured. Although Buddhists had theretofore been wholly quiescent politi- 
cally, in subsequent weeks, a full-blown Buddhist "struggle" movement demon- 
strated a sophisticated command of public protest techniques by a cohesive and 

202 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

disciplined organization, somewhat belying the notion that the movement was 
an outraged, spontaneous response to religious repression and discrimination. 
Nonetheless, by June it was clear that the regime was confronted not with a 
dissident religious minority, but with a grave crisis of public confidence. The 
Buddhist protest had become a vehicle for mobilizing the widespread popular 
resentment of an arbitrary and often oppressive rule. It had become the focal 
point of political opposition to Diem. Under strong U.S. pressure and in the 
face of an outraged world opinion, the regime reached ostensible agreement with 
the Buddhists on June 16. But the agreement merely papered over the crisis, 
without any serious concessions by Diem. This intransigence was reinforced by 
Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, and his wife, who bitterly attacked the Bud- 
dhists throughout the summer. By mid-August the crisis was reaching a breaking 

The Buddhists' demonstrations and protest created a crisis for American 
policy as well. The U.S. policy of support for South Vietnam's struggle against 
the Hanoi-supported Viet Cong insurgency was founded on unequivocal support 
of Diem, whom the U.S. had long regarded as the only national leader capable 
of unifying his people for their internal war. When the Buddhist protest re- 
vealed widespread public disaffection, the U.S. made repeated attempts to per- 
suade Diem to redress the Buddhist grievances, to repair his public image, and 
to win back public support. But the Ngos were unwilling to bend. Diem, in 
true mandarin style, was preoccupied with questions of face and survival — not 
popular support. He did not understand the profound changes his country had 
experienced under stress, nor did he understand the requirement for popular 
support that the new sense of nationalism had created. The U.S. Ambassador, 
Frederick Nolting, had conducted a low-key diplomacy toward Diem, designed 
to bring him to the American way of thinking through reason and persuasion. 
He approached the regime during the first weeks of the Buddhist crisis in the 
same manner, but got no results. When he left on vacation at the end of May, 
his DCM, William Truehart, abandoned the soft sell for a tough line. He took 
U.S. views to Diem not as expressions of opinion, but as demands for action. 
Diem, however, remained as obdurate and evasive as ever. Not even the U.S. 
threat to dissociate itself from GVN actions in the Buddhist crisis brought move- 

In late June, with Nolting still on leave, President Kennedy announced the 
appointment of Henry Cabot Lodge as Ambassador to Vietnam to replace 
Nolting in September. In the policy deliberations then taking place in Wash- 
ington, consideration was being given for the first time to what effect a coup 
against Diem would have. But Nolting returned, first to Washington and then 
to Saigon, to argue that the only alternative to Diem was chaos. The U.S. 
military too, convinced that the war effort was going well, felt that nothing 
should be done to upset the apple cart. So Nolting was given another chance 
to talk Diem into conciliating the Buddhists. The Ambassador worked assid- 
uously at the task through July and the first part of August, but Diem would 
agree only to gestures and half-measures that could not stop the grave dete- 
rioration of the political situation. Nolting left Vietnam permanently in mid- 
August with vague assurances from Diem that he would seek to improve the 
climate of relations with the Buddhists. Less than a week later, Nolting was 
betrayed by Nhu's dramatic August 21 midnight raids on Buddhist pagodas 
throughout Vietnam. 

One of the important lessons of the American involvement in South 
Vietnam in support of Diem was that a policy of unreserved commitment to a 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 203 

particular leadership placed us in a weak and manipulable position on important 
internal issues. The view that there were "no alternatives" to Diem greatly 
limited the extent of our influence over the regime and ruled out over the years 
a number of kinds of leverage that we might usefully have employed or threat- 
ened to employ. Furthermore, it placed the U.S. in the unfortunate role of suitor 
to a fickle lover. Aware of our fundamental commitment to him, Diem could 
with relative impunity ignore our wishes. It reversed the real power relation- 
ship between the two countries. Coupled with Diem's persistent and ruthless 
elimination of all potential political opposition, it left us with rather stark alter- 
natives indeed when a crisis on which we could not allow delay and equivocation 
finally occurred. For better or worse, the August 12 pagoda raids decided the 
issue for us. 

The raids, themselves, were carefully timed by Nhu to be carried out when 
the U.S. was without an Ambassador, and only after a decree placing the coun- 
try under military martial law had been issued. They were conducted by combat 
police and special forces units taking orders directly from Nhu, not through the 
Army chain of command. The sweeping attacks resulted in the wounding of 
about 30 monks, the arrest of over 1,400 Buddhists and the closing of the 
pagodas (after they had been damaged and looted in the raids). In their bru- 
tality and their blunt repudiation of Diem's solemn word to Nolting, they were 
a direct, impudent slap in the face for the U.S. Nhu expected that in crushing 
the Buddhists he could confront the new U.S. Ambassador with a fait accompli 
in which the U.S. would complainingly acquiesce, as we had in so many of the 
regime's actions which we opposed. Moreover, he attempted to fix blame for the 
raids on the senior Army generals. Getting word of the attacks in Honolulu, 
where he was conferring with Nolting and Hilsman, Lodge flew directly to 
Saigon. He immediately let it be known that the U.S. completely dissociated 
itself from the raids and could not tolerate such behavior. In Washington the 
morning after, while much confusion reigned about who was responsible for 
the raids, a statement repudiating them was promptly released. Only after 
several days did the U.S. finally establish Nhu's culpability in the attacks and 
publicly exonerate the Army. 

On August 23, the first contact with a U.S. representative was made by gen- 
erals who had begun to plan a coup against Diem. The generals wanted a clear 
indication of where the U.S. stood. State in its subsequently controversial reply, 
drafted and cleared on a weekend when several of the principal Presidential 
advisors were absent from Washington, affirmed that Nhu's continuation in a 
power position within the regime was intolerable (words missing) and did not, 
"then, we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved." This 
message was to be communicated to the generals, and Diem was to be warned 
that Nhu must go. Lodge agreed with the approach to the generals, but felt it 
was futile to present Diem with an ultimatum he would only ignore and one that 
might tip off the palace to the coup plans. Lodge proceeded to inform only the 
generals. They were told that the U.S. could no longer support a regime which 
included Nhu, but that keeping Diem was entirely up to them. This was com- 
municated to the generals on August 27. The President and some of his advisors, 
however, had begun to have second thoughts abought switching horses so sud- 
denly, and with so little information on whether the coup could succeed, and if 
it did, what kind of government it would bring to power. As it turned out, Wash- 
ington's anxiety was for naught, the plot was premature, and after several un- 
certain days, its demise was finally recognized on August 31. 

Thus by the end of August, we found ourselves without a leadership to 

204 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol II 

support and without a policy to follow in our relations with the GVN. In this 
context a month-long policy review took place in Washington and in Vietnam. 
It was fundamentally a search for alternatives. In both places the issue was 
joined between those who saw no realistic alternatives to Diem and felt that his 
policies were having only a marginal effect on the war effort, which they wanted 
to get on with by renewing our support and communication with Diem; and 
those who felt that the war against the VC would not possibly be won with Diem 
in power and preferred therefore to push for a coup of some kind. The first 
view was primarily supported by the military and the CIA both in Saigon and in 
Washington, while the latter was held by the U.S. Mission, the State Department 
and members of the White House staff. In the end, a third alternative was 
selected, namely to use pressure on Diem to get him to remove Nhu from the 
scene and to end his repressive policies. Through September, however, the 
debate continued with growing intensity. Tactical considerations, such as an- 
other Lodge approach to Diem about removing the Nhus and the effect of Sen- 
ator Church's resolution calling for an aid suspension, focused the discussion at 
times, but the issue of whether to renew our support for Diem remained. The 
decision hinged on the assessment of how seriously the political deterioration 
was affecting the war effort. 

In the course of these policy debates, several participants pursued the 
logical but painful conclusion that if the war could not be won with Diem, and if 
his removal would lead to political chaos and also jeopardize the war effort, 
then the war was probably unwinnable. If that were the case, the argument 
went, then the U.S. should really be facing a more basic decision on either an 
orderly disengagement from an irretrievable situation, or a major escalation of 
the U.S. involvement, including the use of U.S. combat troops. These prophetic 
minority voices were, however, raising an unpleasant prospect that the Adminis- 
tration was unprepared to face at that time. In hindsight, however, it is clear 
that this was one of the times in the history of our Vietnam involvement when 
we were making fundamental choices. The option to disengage honorably at 
that time now appears an attractively low-cost one. But for the Kennedy Ad- 
ministration then, the costs no doubt appeared much higher. In any event, 
it proved to be unwilling to accept the implications of predictions for a bleak 
future. The Administration hewed to the belief that if the U.S. be but willing to 
exercise its power, it could ultimately always have its way in world affairs. 

Nonetheless, in view of the widely divergent views of the principals in 
Saigon, the Administration sought independent judgments with two successive 
fact-finding missions. The first of these whirlwind inspections, by General 
Victor Krulak, JCS SACSA, and a State Department Vietnam expert, Joseph 
Mendenhall, from September 7-10, resulted in diametrically opposing reports 
to the President on the conditions and situation and was, as a result, futile. The 
Krulak-Mendenhall divergence was significant because it typifies the deficient 
analysis of both the U.S. civilian and military missions in Vietnam with respect 
to the overall political situation in the country. The U.S. civilian observers, for 
their part, failed to fully appreciate the impact Diem had had in preventing the 
emergence of any other political forces. The Buddhists, while a cohesive and 
effective minority protest movement, lacked a program or the means to achieve 
power. The labor unions were entirely urban-based and appealed to only a small 
segment of the population. The clandestine political parties were small, urban, 
and usually elitist. The religious sects had a narrow appeal and were based on 
ethnic minorities. Only the Viet Cong had any real support and influence on a 
broad base in the countryside. The only real alternative source of political 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 205 

power was the Army since it had a large, disciplined organization spanning the 
country, with an independent communications and transportation system and a 
strong superiority to any other group in coercive power. In its reports on the 
Army, however, General Harkins and the U.S. military had failed to appreciate 
the deeply corrosive effect on internal allegiance and discipline in the Army 
that Diem's loyalty based promotion and assignment policies had had. They did 
not foresee that in the wake of a coup senior officers would lack the cohesiveness 
to hang together and that the temptations of power would promote a devisive 
internal competition among ambitious men at the expense of the war against 
the Viet Cong. 

Two weeks after the fruitless Krulak-Mendenhall mission, with the Washing- 
ton discussions still stalemated, it was the turn of Secretary McNamara and 
General Taylor, the Chairman of the JCS, to assess the problem. They left 
for Vietnam on September 23 with the Presidential instruction to appraise the 
condition of the war effort and the impact on it of the Buddhist political tur- 
moil and to recommend a course of action for the GVN and the U.S. They 
returned to Washington on October 2. Their report was a somewhat contra- 
dictory compromise between the views of the civilian and military staffs. It 
affirmed that the war was being won, and that it would be successfully con- 
cluded in the first three corps areas by the end of 1964, and in the Delta by 
1965, thereby permitting the withdrawal of American advisors, although it noted 
that the political tensions were starting to have an adverse effect on it. But, more 
importantly, it recommended a series of measures to coerce Diem into com- 
pliance with American wishes that included a selective suspension of U.S. 
economic aid, an end to aid for the special forces units used in the August 21 
raids unless they were subordinated to the Joint General Staff, and the con- 
tinuation of Lodge's cool official aloofness from the regime. It recommended the 
public announcement of the U.S. intention to withdraw 1,000 troops by the 
end of the year, but suggested that the aid suspensions not be announced in 
order to give Diem a chance to respond without a public loss of face. It con- 
cluded by recommending against active U.S. encouragement of a coup, in 
spite of the fact that an aid suspension was the one step the generals had asked 
for in August as a sign of U.S. condemnation of Diem and support for a change 
of government. The report was quickly adopted by Kennedy in the NSC and 
a brief, and subsequently much rued, statement was released to the press on 
October 2, announcing the planned withdrawal of 1,000 troops by year's end. 

The McNamara-Taylor mission, like the Krulak-Mendenhall mission before 
it and the Honolulu Conference in November after the coup, points up the 
great difficulty encountered by high level fact-finding missions and conferences 
in getting at the "facts" of a complex policy problem like Vietnam in a short 
time. It is hard to believe that hasty visits by harried high level officials with 
overloaded itineraries really add much in the way of additional data or lucid 
insight. And because they become a focal point of worldwide press coverage, 
they often raise public expectations or anxieties that may only create additional 
problems for the President. There were many such high level conferences over 

Of the recommendations of the McNamara-Taylor mission, the proposal for 
a selective suspension of economic aid, in particular the suspension of the com- 
mercial import program, was the most significant both in terms of its effect, 
and as an example of the adroit use or denial of American assistance to achieve 
our foreign policy objectives. In this instance economic sanctions, in the form 
of selected aid suspensions in those programs to which the regime would be 

206 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Voh 11 

most sensitive but that would have no immediate adverse effect on the war 
effort, were used constructively to influence events rather than negatively to 
punish those who had violated our wishes, our usual reaction to coups in Latin 
America. The proposal itself had been under consideration since the abortive 
coup plot of August. At that time, Lodge had been authorized to suspend aid if 
he thought it would enhance the likelihood of the success of a coup. Later in 
September he was again given specific control over the delay or suspension of 
any of the pending aid programs. On both occasions, however, he had expressed 
doubt about the utility of such a step. In fact, renewal of the commercial import 
program had been pending since early in September, so that the adoption of the 
McNamara-Taylor proposal merely formalized the existing situation into 
policy. As might have been expected (although the record leaves ambiguous 
whether this was a conscious aim of the Administration), the Vietnamese 
generals interpreted the suspension as a green light to proceed with a coup. 

While this policy was being applied in October, Lodge shunned all contact 
with the regime that did not come at Diem's initiative. He wanted it clearly 
understood that they must come to him prepared to adopt our advice before 
he would recommend to Washington a change in U.S. policy. Lodge performed 
with great skill, but inevitably frictions developed within the Mission as different 
viewpoints and proposals came forward. In particular, Lodge's disagreements 
and disputes with General Harkins during October when the coup plot was ma- 
turing and later were to be of considerable embarrassment to Washington when 
they leaked to the press. Lodge had carefully cultivated the press, and when the 
stories of friction appeared, it was invariably Harkins or Richardson or someone 
else who was the villian. 

No sooner had the McNamara-Taylor mission returned to Washington and 
reported its recommendations than the generals reopened contact with the 
Mission indicating that once again they were preparing to strike against the 
regime. Washington's immediate reaction on October 5 was to reiterate the 
decision of the NSC on the McNamara-Taylor report, i.e., no U.S. encourage- 
ment of a coup. Lodge was instructed, however, to maintain contact with the 
generals and to monitor their plans as they emerged. These periodic contacts 
continued and by October 25, Lodge had come to believe that Diem was un- 
likely to respond to our pressure and that we should therefore not thwart the 
coup forces. Harkins disagreed, believing that we still had not given Diem a real 
chance to rid himself of Nhu and that we should present him with such an 
ultimatum and test his response before going ahead with a coup. He, further- 
more, had reservations about the strength of the coup forces when compared 
with those likely to remain loyal to the regime. All this left Washington anxious 
and doubtful. Lodge was cautioned to seek fuller information on the coup plot, 
including a line-up of forces and the proposed plan of action. The U.S. could not 
base its policy on support for a coup attempt that did not offer a strong prospect 
of success. Lodge was counseled to consider ways of delaying or preventing the 
coup if he doubted its prospects for success. By this juncture, however, Lodge 
felt committed and, furthermore, felt the matter was no longer in our hands. 
The generals were taking the action on their own initiative and we could only 
prevent it now by denouncing them to Diem. While this debate was still going 
on, the generals struck. 

Shortly after Ambassador Lodge and Admiral Felt had called on Diem on 
November 1, the generals made their move, culminating a summer and fall of 
complex intrigue. The coup was led by General Minh, the most respected of the 
senior generals, together with Generals Don, Kim and Khiem. They convoked 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 207 

a meeting of all but a few senior officers at JGS headquarters at noon on the 
day of the coup, announced their plans and got the support of their compatriots. 
The coup itself was executed with skill and swiftness. They had devoted special 
attention to ensuring that the major potentially loyal forces were isolated and 
their leaders neutralized at the outset of the operation. By the late afternoon 
of November 1, only the palace guard remained to defend the two brothers. At 
4:30 p.m., Diem called Lodge to ask where the U.S. stood. Lodge was noncom- 
mital and confined himself to concern for Diem's physical safety. The conver- 
sation ended inconclusively. The generals made repeated calls to the palace 
offering the brothers safe conduct out of the country if they surrendered, but 
the two held out hope until the very end. Sometime that evening they secretly 
slipped out of the palace through an underground escape passage and went to a 
hide-away in Cholon. There they were captured the following morning after 
their whereabouts was learned when the palace fell. Shortly the two brothers 
were murdered in the back of an armored personnel carrier en route to JGS 

Having successfully carried off their coup, the generals began to make ar- 
rangements for a civilian government. Vice President Tho was named to head 
a largely civilian cabinet, but General Minh became President and Chairman 
of the shadow Military Revolutionary Council. After having delayed an appro- 
priate period, the U.S. recognized the new government on November 8. As the 
euphoria of the first days of liberation from the heavy hand of the Diem regime 
wore off, however, the real gravity of the economic situation and the lack of 
expertise in the new government became apparent to both Vietnamese and 
American officials. The deterioration of the military situation and the strategic 
hamlet program also came more and more clearly into perspective. 

These topics dominated the discussions at the Honolulu Conference on 
November 20 when Lodge and the country team met with Rusk, McNamara, 
Taylor, Bell, and Bundy. But the meeting ended inconclusively. After Lodge had 
conferred with the President a few days later in Washington, the White House 
tried to pull together some conclusions and offer some guidance for our con- 
tinuing and now deeper involvement in Vietnam. The instructions contained in 
NSAM 273, however, did not reflect the truly dire situation as it was to come 
to light in succeeding weeks. The reappraisals forced by the new information 
would swiftly make it irrelevant as it was "overtaken by events." 

For the military coup d'etat against Ngo Dinh Diem, the U.S. must accept 
its full share of responsibility. Beginning in August of 1963 we variously au- 
thorized, sanctioned and encouraged the coup efforts of the Vietnamese generals 
and offered full support for a successor government. In October we cut off 
aid to Diem in a direct rebuff, giving a green light to the generals. We main- 
tained clandestine contact with them throughout the planning and execution of 
the coup and sought to review their operational plans and proposed new govern- 
ment. Thus, as the nine-year rule of Diem came to a bloody end, our complicity 
in his overthrow heightened our responsibilities and our commitment in an 
essentially leaderless Vietnam. 

End of Summary and Analysis 


8 May 1963 Hue incident 

Government troops fire on a Buddhist protest demonstration, 
killing nine and wounding fourteen. The incident triggers a na- 

208 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

tionwide Buddhist protest and a crisis of popular confidence for 
the Diem regime. GVN maintains the incident was an act of VC 

10 May 1963 Manifesto of Buddhist clergy 

A five point demand by the Buddhist clergy is transmitted to the 
Government. It calls for freedom to fly the Buddhist flag, legal 
equality with the Catholic Church, an end of arrests, punishment 
of the perpetrators of the May 8 incident, and indemnification of 
its victims. 

18 May 1963 Nolting meeting with Diem; Embassy Saigon message 1038 

U.S. Ambassador Nolting meets with Diem and outlines the steps 
the U.S. wants Diem to take to redress the Buddhist grievances 
and recapture public confidence. These include an admission of 
responsibility for the Hue incident, compensation of the victims, 
and a reaffirmation of religious equality and non-discrimination. 

30 May 1963 Buddhist demonstration 

350 Buddhist monks demonstrate in front of the National As- 
sembly and announce a 48-hour hunger strike. 

4 Jun 1963 Truehart meeting with Thuan 

With Nolting on leave, charge d'affaires Truehart meets with Sec- 
retary of State Thuan, and on instruction from the State Depart- 
ment, warns that U.S. support for the GVN could not be main- 
tained if there were another bloody suppression of Buddhists. 

Tho committee appointed 

Later that day the Government announces the appointment of an 
inter-ministerial committee headed by Vice President Tho to re- 
solve the religious issue. 

5 Jun 1963 Tho committee meets Buddhists 

The first meeting between the Tho committee and the Buddhist 
leadership takes place, after which each side publicly questions 
the other's good faith in the negotiations. 

8 Jun 1963 Madame Nhu attacks Buddhists 

Madame Nhu, wife of Diem's powerful brother, publicly accuses 
the Buddhists of being infiltrated with communist agents. 

Later on the same day, Truehart protests Mme Nhu's remarks to 
Diem and threatens to dissociate the U.S. from any future repres- 
sive measures against the Buddhists. 

11 Jun 1963 First Buddhist suicide by fire 

At noon in the middle of a downtown intersection, a Buddhist 
monk, Thich Quang Due, is immersed in gasoline and sets him- 
self afire. His fiery protest suicide is photographed and is front 
page material in the world's newspapers. Shock and indignation 
are universal. Mme Nhu subsequently refers to it as a "barbecue." 

12 Jun 1963 Truehart repeats U.S. dissociation threat 

Truehart sees Diem again to protest his lack of action on the 
Buddhist problem and says that Quang Due's suicide has shocked 
the world. If Diem does not act, the U.S. will be forced to dis- 
sociate itself from him. 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 209 

14 Jun 1963 Tho committee meets again with Buddhists 

Under U.S. pressure, negotiations between Vice President Tho's 
committee and the Buddhist leadership reopen in apparent ear- 

16 Jun 1963 GVN-Buddhist communique 

A joint GVN-Buddhist communique is released as a product of 
the negotiations that outlines the elements of a settlement, but 
affixes no responsibility for the May 8 Hue incident. 

Late June— Buddhist protest intensifies 

July Buddhists protest activities intensify as leadership passes from 

the discredited moderate, older leaders to younger militants. The 
Saigon press corps is actively cultivated. 

27 June 1963 Kennedy announces Lodge appointment 

President Kennedy, visiting in Ireland, announces the appoint- 
ment of Henry Cabot Lodge as the new U.S. Ambassador to 
South Vietnam, effective in September. 

3 Jul 1963 Tho committee absolves regime 

Vice President Tho's committee announces that a preliminary in- 
vestigation of the May 8 incident has confirmed that the deaths 
were the result of an act of VC terrorism. 

4 Jul 1963 White House meeting on Vietnamese situation 

At a State Department briefing for the President it is generally 
agreed that Diem will not voluntarily remove Nhu. A discussion 
of the likely consequences of a coup reveals divergent views. 

5 Jul 1963 Nolting in Washington 

Having cut short his vacation to return to Washington for con- 
sultations, Nolting confers with Under Secretary of State George 
Ball and voices the fear that an attempt to overthrow Diem 
would result in a protracted religious civil war that would open 
the door to the Viet Cong. We should not abandon Diem yet. 
While in Washington he also sees Secretary McNamara. 

10 Jul 1963 SNIE 53-2-63 

This special intelligence estimate notes coup rumors in Vietnam 
and warns that a coup would disrupt the war effort and perhaps 
give the Viet Cong the opportunity for gains they had been hop- 
ing for. It concludes, however, that if Diem does nothing to im- 
plement the June 16 agreements, Buddhist unrest will continue 
through the summer and increase the likelihood of a coup at- 

11 Jul 1963 Nolting' s return to Saigon 

Nolting returns to Vietnam with Washington's blessing to make 
one last attempt to persuade Diem to conciliate the Buddhists. The 
hope is to draw on the good will that Nolting has built up in his 
two years of service. 

Nhu squelches coup plotting 

At a special meeting for all senior generals, Nhu attacks their 
loyalty to the regime for not having thwarted the numerous coup 

210 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

plots that had been reported. The meeting apparently forestalls 
any immediae threat to the family. 

15 Jul 1963 Embassy Saigon message 85 

Deeply resentful of Truehart's tough pressure tactics, Nolting 
meets with Diem and attempts to mollify him. He convinces Diem 
to make a nationwide radio address with concessions to the 

19 Jul 1963 Diem speaks on radio 

Complying with the letter but not the spirit of Nolting's request, 
Diem delivers a brief cold radio address that makes only very 
minor concessions to the Buddhists and asks for harmony and 
support of the Government. 

McNamara press conference 

At a press conference, Secretary McNamara says the war is 
progressing well and the Buddhist crisis has not yet affected it. 

5 Aug 1963 Second Buddhist suicide 

A second Buddhist monk commits suicide by burning himself to 
death in the continuing protest against the Diem regime. 

14 Aug 1963 Nolting-Diem meeting 

In their final meeting before Nolting's departure from Vietnam, 
Diem promises to make a public statement repudiating Mme 
Nhu's inflammatory denunciations of the Buddhists. Nolting left 
the next day. 

15 Aug 1963 New York Herald Tribune article by Marguerite Higgins 

Diem's promised public statement takes the form of an interview 
with Marguerite Higgins, conservative correspondent of the New 
York Herald Tribune. Diem asserts that conciliation has been his 
policy toward the Buddhists all along and the family is pleased 
with Lodge's appointment. 

18 Aug 1963 Generals decide on martial law 

Ten senior Army generals meet and decide that in view of the 
deteriorating political situation, they will ask Diem for a declara- 
tion of martial law to permit them to return monks from outside 
Saigon to their own provinces and pagodas and thus reduce ten- 
sions in the capital. 

20 Aug 1963 Generals propose martial law to Nhu and Diem 

A small group of generals meets first with Nhu and then with 
Diem to propose that martial law be decreed forthwith. Diem 
approves the proposal and the decree takes effect at midnight. 

21 Aug 1963 Nhu's forces attack pagodas 

Under the cover of the military martial law, shortly after mid- 
night, forces loyal to Nhu and under his orders attack pagodas 
throughout Vietnam, arresting monks and sacking the sacred build- 
ings. Over 30 Buddhists are injured and over 1400 arrested. The 
attack is a shattering repudiation of Diem's promises to Nolting. 
The Embassy is taken by surprise. 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 211 
Lodge confers with Nolting and Hilsman 

First news of the attacks reaches Lodge in Honolulu where he is 
conferring with Nolting and Assistant Secretary of State Hilsman. 
He is dispatched immediately to Vietnam. 

Washington reaction 

At 9:30 a.m. a stiff statement is released by State deploring the 
raids as a direct violation of Diem's assurances to the U.S. But 
first intelligence places the blame for them on the Army, not Nhu. 

22 Aug 1963 Lodge arrives in Saigon 

After a brief stop in Tokyo, Lodge arrives in Saigon at 9:30 p.m. 
The situation still remains confused. 

23 Aug 1963 CIA Information Report TDCS DB-3/656,252 

General Don, armed forces commander under the martial law 
decree, has contacted a CAS officer and asked why the U.S. was 
broadcasting the erroneous story that the Army had conducted 
the pagoda raids. Nhu's special forces were responsible. The U.S. 
should make its position known. A separate contact by another 
general with a member of the mission had brought another in- 
quiry as to the U.S. position. The query is clear. Would we 
support the Army if it acted against Nhu aj id/orDiem? 

Student demonstrations 

Large student protest demonstrations on behalf of the imprisoned 
Buddhists take place at the faculties of medicine and pharmacy 
at the University of Saigon. They are a dramatic break with the 
tradition of student apathy to politics in Vietnam. The regime 
reacts with massive arrests. 

24 Aug 1963 Embassy Saigon message 316, Lodge to Hilsman 

Lodge lays the blame for the raids at Nhu's feet and states that 
his influence is significantly increased. But, in view of the loyalty 
of Saigon area commanders, a coup attempt would be a "shot in 
the dark." 

State message 243, State to Lodge 

Subsequently known as the "Aug 24 cable," this controversial 
message acknowledges Nhu's responsibility for the raids and says 
that U.S. can no longer tolerate his continuation in power. If 
Diem is unable or unwilling to remove him, the generals are to 
be told that the U.S. will be prepared to discontinue economic 
and military support, accept the obvious implication and will 
promise assistance to them in any period of interim breakdown of 
the GVN. Lodge's permission is requested for a VOA broadcast 
exonerating the Army of responsibility for the Aug 21 raids. 

25 Aug 1963 Embassy Saigon message 

Lodge approves the proposed course of action but sees no reason 
to approach Diem first. Diem will not remove the Nhus and it 
would merely tip off the palace to the impending military action. 

CAS Saigon message 0292 

Lodge, Harkins, and Richardson meet and agree on an approach 
to the generals with the information in State's 243. 

212 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

26 Aug 1963 VOA broadcast 

Early on this Monday morning, VOA in South Vietnam broad- 
casts the press stories placing blame for the Aug 21 raids on Nhu 
and absolving the Army. It also broadcast press speculation that 
the U.S. is contemplating an aid suspension. 
Lodge presents credentials to Diem 

Later the same morning, Lodge presents his credentials to Diem, 
after an early morning meeting with Harkins and Richardson, at 
which they agree on the details of the approach to the generals. 

NSC meeting 

The Aug 24 cable of instructions had been drafted, cleared and 
sent on a weekend with McNamara, McCone, Rusk and the Presi- 
dent all out of town. The NSC meeting on Monday morning re- 
veals that these top advisors have reservations about proceeding 
hastily with a coup when we lack so much basic information 
about its leadership and chances. Lodge is asked for more details. 

27 Aug 1963 CAS agents meet generals 

CAS agents Conein and Spera meet with Generals Khiem and 
Khanh respectively. Khiem tells Conein that other participants are 
Generals Minh, Kim, Thieu and Le, and that General Don was 
aware of the plot and approved, but was too exposed to partici- 

Embassy Saigon message 364 

Lodge gives an optimistic appraisal of the balance of forces for a 
coup and expresses confidence in the identified leaders. 

NSC meeting 

At the now daily NSC meeting in Washington, the State Depart- 
ment participants generally favor going ahead with the coup, 
while the Defense Department, both civilian and military, pre- 
fers another try with Diem. 

28 Aug 1963 MACV message 1557 

Harkins goes on record with doubts about the line-up of forces 
for the coup and sees no reason for our "rush approval." 

State message 269, President to Lodge; and JCS message 3385, 
Taylor to Harkins 

Concerned by the differing views of Lodge and Harkins, as well 
as the division of opinion in Washington, the President asks the 
Ambassador and MACV for their separate appraisals. 

29 Aug 1963 CAS agents meet Minh 

At this meeting, arranged by Minh, he asks for clear evidence 
that the U.S. will not betray them to Nhu. He is unwilling to 
discuss the details of his plan. When asked what would constitute 
a sign of U.S. support, he replies that the U.S. should suspend 
economic aid to the regime. 

Embassy Saigon message 375 

Lodge replies to the Presidential query that the U.S. is irrevocably 
committed to the generals. He recommends showing the CAS 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 213 

messages to them to establish our good faith and if that is in- 
sufficient, he recommends a suspension of economic aid as they 

MACV message 1566 

Harkins reply to Taylor suggests that one last effort be made with 
Diem in the form of an ultimatum demanding Nhu's removal. 
Such a move he feels will strengthen the hand of the generals, 
not imperil them. 

NSC meeting 

Another inconclusive meeting is held with the division of opinion 
on a U.S. course of action still strong. The result is to leave policy 
making in Lodge's hands. 

State message 272 

Lodge is authorized to have Harkins show the CAS messages to 
the generals in exchange for a look at their detailed plans. He is 
further authorized to suspend U.S. aid at his discretion. 

31 Aug 1963 MACV message 1583; Embassy Saigon message 391; and CAS 
Saigon message 0499 

Harkins meets with Khiem who tells him that Minh has called off 
the coup. Military was unable to achieve a favorable balance of 
forces in the Saigon area and doubts about whether the U.S. had 
leaked their plans to Nhu were the deciding factors. A future at- 
tempt is not ruled out. 

NSC meeting; MGen Victor C. Krulak, Memo for the Record, 
Vietnam Meeting at the State Dept. 

With the demise of the coup plot confirmed, the NSC (without 
the President) meets to try to chart a new policy for Vietnam. 
The discussion reveals the divergence between the military desire 
to get on with the war and repair relations with Diem, and the 
State Department view that continued support for Diem will 
eventually mean a loss of the war as more and more of the South 
Vietnamese are alienated from it. No decisions are taken. 

2 Sep 1963 Kennedy TV interview 

The President, in a TV interview with CBS News' Walter Cron- 
kite, expresses his disappointment with Diem's handling of the 
Buddhist crisis and concern that a greater effort is needed by the 
GVN to win popular support. This can be done, he feels, "with 
change in policy and perhaps with personnel . . ." 

Lodge meets with Nhu 

Avoiding any contact with Diem, Lodge nonetheless meets with 
Nhu who announces his intention to quit the Government as a 
sign of the progress of the campaign against the VC. Mme Nhu 
and Archbishop Thuc, another of Diem's brothers, are to leave 
the country on extended trips shortly. 

6 Sep 1963 NSC meeting 

The NSC decides to instruct Lodge to reopen "tough" negotiations 
with Diem and to start by clarifying to him the U.S. position. 
Robert Kennedy speculates that if the war can be won neither 

214 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

with Diem nor in the event of a disruptive coup, we should per- 
haps be considering a U.S. disengagement. Secretary McNamara 
proposes a fact-finding trip by General Krulak, and State sug- 
gests including Joseph Mendenhall, a senior FSO with Vietnam 
experience. They leave later the same day. 

7 Sep 1963 Archbishop Thuc leaves Vietnam 

With the intercession of the Vatican and the Papal Delegate in 
Saigon, Archbishop Thuc leaves the country for Rome on an 
extended visit. 

8 Sep 1963 AID Director Bell TV interview 

In a televised interview, AID Director Bell expresses concern 
that Congress might cut aid to South Vietnam if the Diem Gov- 
ernment does not change its repressive policies. 

9 Sep 1963 Mine Nhu leaves Vietnam 

Mme Nhu departs from Saigon to attend the World Parliamen- 
tarians Conference in Belgrade and then to take an extended 
trip through Europe and possibly the U.S. 

Kennedy TV interview 

Appearing on the inaugural program of the NBC Huntley-Brink- 
ley News, the President says he does not believe an aid cut-off 
would be helpful in achieving American purposes in Vietnam at 

10 Sep 1963 NSC meeting 

Krulak and Mendenhall return from Vietnam after a whirlwind 
four day trip and make their report to the NSC. With them are 
John Mecklin, USIS Director in Saigon, and Rufus Phillips, 
USOM's Director of Rural Programs. Krulak's report stresses 
that the war is being won and, while there is some dissatisfaction 
in the military with Diem, no one would risk his neck to remove 
him. A continuation of present policies under Diem will yield 
victory. Mendenhall presents a completely contradictory view of 
the situation. A breakdown of civil administration was possible 
and a religious civil war could not be excluded if Diem was not 
replaced. The war certainly could not be won with Diem. Phillips 
and Mecklin support Mendenhall with variations. Nolting agrees 
with Krulak. All the disagreement prompts the President to ask 
the two emissaries, "You two did visit the same country, didn't 

11 Sep 1963 Embassy Saigon message 478 

Lodge reverses himself in suggesting a complete study of kinds 
of economic aid suspension that might be used to topple the 

White House meeting 

White House decides to hold economic aid renewal in abeyance 
pending a complete examination of how it might be used to pres- 
sure Diem. 

12 Sep 1963 

Senator Church's Resolution 

With White House approval, Senator Church introduces a resolu- 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 215 

tion in the Senate condemning the South Vietnamese Govern- 
ment for its repressive handling of the Buddhist problem and call- 
ing for an end to U.S. aid unless the repressions are abandoned. 

14 Sep 1963 State message 411 

Lodge is informed that approval of the $18.5 million commercial 

import program is deferred until basic policy decisions on Viet- 
nam have been made. 

16 Sep 1963 Martial law ends 

Martial law is ended throughout the country. 

17 Sep 1963 NSC meeting 

Two alternative proposals for dealing with Diem are considered. 
The first would use an escalatory set of pressures to get him to 
do our bidding. The second would involve acquiescence in recent 
GVN actions, recognition that Diem and Nhu are inseparable, 
and an attempt to salvage as much as possible from a bad situa- 
tion. A decision is taken to adopt the first as policy, and also to 
send Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on a fact-gathering 

21 Sep 1963 White House press release 

The forthcoming McNamara-Taylor mission is announced to the 
press by the White House. 

White House instructions to McNamara— Taylor 
The White House instructions for the mission ask the two men 
to (1) appraise the status of the military effort; (2) assess the 
impact on the war effort of the Buddhist crisis; (3) recommend 
a course of action for the GVN to redress the problem and for 
the US. to get them to do it; and (4) examine how our aid can 
further no. 3. 

23 Sep 1963 McNamara-Taylor mission departs 

The McNamara-Taylor party leaves Washington for its ten day 
trip to Vietnam. 

25 Sep 1963 Opening meeting of McNamara-Taylor with country team 

The disagreement between Harkins and Lodge about the situation 
in-country and the progress of the war surfaces immediately in 
this first conference. McNamara spends several subsequent days 
touring various parts of Vietnam to appraise the war first hand 
and talk with U.S. and Vietnamese officers. 

27 Sep 1963 National Assembly elections 

As announced earlier, and at the end of a pro forma one week 
campaign, the GVN holds nation-wide elections for the National 
Assembly with predictably high turnouts and majorities for Gov- 
ernment candidates. 

Embassy Saigon messages 602 and 608 

Aware that McNamara and Taylor are tasked to recommend uses 
of the aid program to pressure Diem, both Lodge and Brent, the 
USOM Director, go on record against them. 

216 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

29 Sep 1963 McNamara, Taylor and Lodge see Diem 

In their protocol call on Diem, and after his two-hour monologue, 
McNamara is able to pointedly stress that the political unrest and 
Government repressive measures against the Buddhists were un- 
dermining the U.S. war effort. Diem seems unimpressed, but 
does ask Taylor for his appraisal, as a military man, of the 
progress of the war. 

30 Sep 1963 McNamara, Taylor and Lodge meet Vice President Tho 

Tho stresses to the two visitors the gravity of the political deterio- 
ration and the negative effect it was having on war. He questions 
the success of the strategic hamlet program. Later that day, the 
McNamara-Taylor party leaves South Vietnam for Honolulu. 

2 Oct 1963 SecDef Memo for the President: Report of the McNamara-Taylor 

After a day in Honolulu to prepare a report, McNamara and 
Taylor return to Washington and present their findings and recom- 
mendations to a morning NSC meeting. Their long report repre- 
sents a compromise between the military and the civilian views. 
It confirms the progress of the war, but warns of the dangers 
inherent in the current political turmoil and recommends pres- 
sures against Diem to bring changes. Militarily, it calls for greater 
GVN effort, especially in the Delta and in clear and hold opera- 
tions, and a consolidation of the strategic hamlet program. It 
proposes the announcement of the plans to withdraw 1,000 
American troops by year's end. To put political pressure on Diem 
to institute the reforms we want, it recommends a selective aid 
suspension, an end of support for the special forces responsible 
for the pagoda raids, and a continuation of Lodge's aloofness from 
the regime. It recommends against a coup, but qualifies this by 
suggesting that an alternative leadership be identified and culti- 
vated. The recommendations are promptly approved by the Presi- 

White House press release 

A statement following the meeting is released as recommended 
by McNamara and Taylor that reiterates the U.S. commitment 
to the struggle against the VC, announces the 1,000 man troop 
withdrawal, and dissociates the U.S. from Diem's repressive 
policies. It does not, however, announce the aid suspensions. 

CAS Saigon message 1385 

CAS agent Conein "accidentally" meets General Don at Tan Son 
Nhut. Don asks him to come to Nha Trang that evening. With 
Embassy approval Conein keeps the appointment. Don states 
that there is an active plot among the generals for a coup, and 
that General Minh wants to see Conein on Oct 5 to discuss de- 
tails. The key to the plan, according to Don, is the conversion of 
III Corps Commander, General Dinh. 

5 Oct 1963 NSC meeting 

The President approves detailed recommendations of the McNa- 
mara-Taylor mission for transmission to Lodge. 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 217 
CAP message 63560 

". . . President today approved recommendation that no initia- 
tive should now be taken to give any active covert encouragement 
to a coup. There should, however, be urgent covert effort ... to 
identify and build contacts with possible alternative leadership as 
and when it appears." 

CAS Saigon message 1445 

With Lodge's approval, and probably before receipt of foregoing 
message, Conein meets with General Minh. Minh says he must 
know the U.S. position on a coup in the near future. The GVN's 
loss of popular support is endangering the whole war effort. Three 
possible plans are mentioned, one involving assassination. Conein 
is noncommital. 

CAS Saigon message 34026 

Lodge recommends that when Conein is contacted again, he be 
authorized to say that the U.S. will not thwart a coup, that we 
are willing to review plans, and that we will continue support to 
a successor regime. 

Richardson recalled 

His identity having been compromised in recent press stories 
about internal policy struggles in the U.S. mission, CIA Chief of 
Station, John Richardson, is recalled to Washington. 

6 Oct 1963 CAP message 63560 

Washington clarifies its views on a coup by stating that the U.S. 
will not thwart such a move if it offers prospects of a more effec- 
tive fight against the VC. Security and deniability of all contacts 
is paramount. 

7 Oct 1963 National Assembly convenes 

The newly elected National Assembly convenes to hear Diem's 
State of the Union address. Diem speaks mainly of Vietnam's past 
progress under his rule, playing down the current political crisis 
and making only scant reference to U.S. aid. 

Mme Nhu arrives in U.S. 

Mme Nhu arrives in the U.S. from Europe for a three-week 
speaking tour. She immediately launches into vituperative attacks 
on the U.S. and its role in Vietnam. 

8 Oct 1963 UN General Assembly vote 

The UN General Assembly, after a strong debate with many 
voices denouncing Diem's anti-Buddhist policy, votes to send a 
fact-finding team to Saigon to investigate the charges of repres- 

10 Oct 1963 CAS officer meets Minh 

A CAS officer reportedly meets with Minh and conveys the U.S. 
position that it will neither encourage nor thwart a coup attempt, 
but would hope to be informed about it. 

17 Oct 1963 GVN informed of aid cut-off to special forces 

Acting for the Ambassador, General Stillwell, MACV J-3, in- 

218 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

forms Secretary Thuan that U.S. aid for the special forces units 
responsible for the Aug 21 raids is being suspended until they are 
transferred to the field and placed under JGS command. 

22 Oct 1963 Department of State, 1NR Research Memo RFE90 

The State Department publishes a controversial research memo- 
randum which takes issue with the Pentagon's optimistic reading 
of the statistical indicators on the progress of the war. The memo 
states that certain definitely negative and ominous trends can 
be identified. 

Harkins sees Don 

General Harkins sees General Don, and in a conversation whose 
interpretation is subsequently disputed, tells him that U.S. officers 
should not be approached about a coup as it distracts them from 
their job, fighting the VC. Don takes it as U.S. discouragement 
of a coup. 

CAS agent meets Don 

General Don renews contact with Conein to ask for clarification 
of U.S. policy after Harkins' statement to him of the previous 
day. Conein repeats Washington guidance, which relieves Don. 
Conein asks for proof of the existence of the coup and its plan; 
Don promises to provide politi- 

[material missing] 

Diem invites Lodge to Dalat 

Diem extends an invitation to Lodge and his wife to spend Sun- 
day, Oct 27, with him at his villa in Dalat. Lodge is pleased, Diem 
has come to him. 

1st CAS agent meeting with Don 

Conein meets with Don in the morning and the latter reports 
that Harkins had corrected his previous remarks and apologized 
for any misunderstanding. The coup is set to take place before 
Nov 2 and he will meet Conein later that day to review the 

2nd CAS agent meeting with Don 

In the evening, Don tells Conein that the coup committee voted 
not to reveal any plans because of concern about security leaks. 
He promises to turn over to Conein for Lodge's Eyes Only the 
operation plan two days before the coup occurs. 

UN fact-finding team arrives in Saigon 

The UN fact-finding team arrives in Saigon and begins its investi- 

25 Oct 1963 CAS Saigon message 1964 

Lodge argues that the time has come to go ahead with a coup 
and we should not thwart the maturing plot. He takes strong 
exception to Harkins reservations about the determination and 
ability of the plotters to carry off the coup. 

CAP message 63590 

Bundy, replying for the White House, is concerned about the 

23 Oct 1963 

24 Oct 1963 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 219 

dangers of U.S. support for a coup that fails. We must be in a 
position to judge the prospects for the coup plan and discourage 
any effort with likelihood of failure. 

26 Oct 1963 Vietnamese National Day 

Diem reviews the troops in the National Day parade before scant 
crowds with Lodge and all other diplomatic personnel in attend- 
ance. The coup had originally been scheduled for this day. 

27 Oct 1963 Lodge-Diem meeting 

As planned, Lodge travels to Dalat with Diem and engages in a 
day-long conversation that produces little results. Diem makes 
his standard complaints against the U.S., and whenever Lodge 
asks what he is planning to do about specific U.S. requests, he 
changes the subject. At one point, he does inquire, however, about 
resumption of the commercial import program. Lodge asks what 
movement he will make on our requests. Diem changes the sub- 
ject. Lodge's feelings of frustration confirm his conviction that 
we cannot work with Diem. 

Buddhist suicide 

A seventh Buddhist monk commits suicide by fire. 

28 Oct 1963 Don contacts Lodge 

At the airport in the morning prior to departing for the dedica- 
tion of an atomic energy facility in Dalat, General Don ap- 
proaches Lodge and asks if Conein is authorized to speak for 
the U.S. Lodge says yes. Don then affirms the need for the coup 
to be completely Vietnamese. Lodge agrees, but when he asks 
about timing, Don replies that the generals are not yet ready. 

CAS agent meets Don 

That evening Conein meets Don again and the latter says that 
the plans may be available for Lodge only four hours before the 
coup. Lodge should not change his plans to go to Washington on 
Oct 31 as this would tip off the palace. Some details of the or- 
ganization of the coup committee are discussed. 

29 Oct 1963 C IN CP AC alerts task force 

CINCPAC alerts a naval and air task force to stand off Vietnam 
for possible evacuation of American dependents and civilians if 

NSC meeting 

A decision is made at the NSC meeting to have Lodge fully in- 
form Harkins on the coup plotting and arrangements, since if 
Lodge leaves, Harkins will be in charge. Concern is also regis- 
tered at the differing views of the two men toward a coup. 

Special forces transferred from Saigon 

In the first preparatory act of the coup, General Dinh orders 
Colonel Tung's special forces out of Saigon for maneuvers. It is 
unclear whether the action came as a part of the generals' coup or 
Nhu's psuedo coup. 

220 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

30 Oct 1963 MACV messages 2028, 2033, and 2034 

Belatedly apprised of the continuing contacts with the generals 
and the U.S. role in the coup plotting, General Harkins dispatches 
three angry cables to Taylor in which he disagrees with Lodge's 
interpretation of the U.S. policy. He understands it to be no 
active covert encouragement. He opposes personally a coup and 
doesn't think the generals have the forces to pull one off. 

CAS Washington message 79109 

The White House is now genuinely concerned at the Saigon dis- 
pute and tells Lodge it believes we still have the power to call 
off the coup if we choose to. 

CAS Saigon message 2063 

Lodge replies to Washington that he is powerless to stop the coup, 
the matter is entirely in Vietnamese hands. Harkins does not 

CAS Washington message 79407 

To clear the air and redefine U.S. policy, Washington sent an- 
other cable to Lodge. The U.S. cannot accept as a policy position 
that it has no power to prevent the coup. If the coup does not 
have high prospects of success, Lodge should intercede with the 
generals to have it delayed or called off. More detailed informa- 
tion on the plans is urgently requested. Specific instructions to 
guide U.S. action during a coup are issued. They prescribe strict 
noninvolvement and somewhat less strict neutrality. 

31 Oct 1963 Lodge defers departure 

Lodge, who had been scheduled to leave for Washington for high- 
level conferences, defers his departure because of the tense atmos- 
phere and the apparent immenence of the coup. 

1 Nov 1963 Lodge and Felt meet with Diem 

10:00 a.m. Admiral Felt, who is visiting, and Lodge call on Diem, who re- 
iterates many of the points he made to McNamara a month 
earlier. At the end of the meeting, Diem takes Lodge aside and 
indicates he is ready to talk about what the U.S. wants him to do. 
Felt leaves Saigon after the meeting. 

Late Coup units begin to deploy 

morning The first coup units begin to deploy in and around Saigon. 

12:00 a.m. Officers meet at JGS 

The coup committee has convened a meeting of all senior Viet- 
namese officers except Generals Dinh and Cao at JGS. There they 
are informed of the coup and asked to support it. All except 
Colonel Tung do. Their pledges of support are taped. Tung is 
taken into custody later to be executed. The CNO was killed en 
route by an escort. A CAS officer is invited to the JGS and main- 
tains telephone contact with the Embassy throughout the coup. 

1:45 p.m. U.S. notified 

General Don calls General Stillwell, J-3 to General Harkins, and 
informs him that the coup is under way. 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 221 

2:00 p.m. Key installations taken 

About his time coup forces are seizing the key installations in 
Saigon, including the post office, police headquarters, radio sta- 
tions, airport, naval headquarters, etc. They were also deploying 
for attacks on the palace and the palace guard barracks and to 
block any counter-attack from outside the city. 

4:00 p.m. First skirmishes, Diem told to surrender 

By about this time the first skirmish was taking place at the palace 
and guard barracks. Failing to reach General Dinh, Diem and 
Nhu realize the coup is serious. The generals called shortly after 
this and told the two brothers to surrender. They refused. 

4:30 p.m. Coup broadcast, Diem calls Lodge 

The generals go on radio, announce the coup and demand the 
resignation of Diem and Nhu. At the same time, Diem is calling 
Lodge. He asks Lodge where the U.S. stands. Lodge replies that 
the U.S. cannot yet have a view. He expresses concern for Diem's 
safety, and the conversation ends there. 

5:00 p.m. Generals again call Diem to demand surrender 

Repeated calls are now made to the palace to get Diem to sur- 
render. All the generals try. Colonel Tung is put on the phone 
and tells Diem he is a captive. Tung is then taken outside and 
executed. Diem and Nhu now frantically call all unit commanders 
but can find none loyal. Outside sporadic firing continues. 

8:00 p.m. Diem and Nhu flee 

Sometime in the early evening, probably about eight o'clock, the 
two brothers escape from the palace through one of the secret 
underground passages constructed for just such emergencies. They 
are met by a Chinese friend who takes them to a previously pre- 
pared hideaway in Cholon. There they spend the night in tele- 
phone contact with the palace. 

9:00 p.m. Palace bombarded 

At about nine o'clock, the attackers launch an artillery and 
armored barrage on the palace and its defenders which lasts 
through the night. 

2 Nov 1963 Assault on the palace begins 

3:30 a.m. The tank and infantry assault on the Gia Long palace begins. 

6:20 a.m. Diem calls generals to surrender 

Diem calls General Don from the Cholon hideout to surrender, 
but does not tell his location. 

6:30 a.m. Palace falls 

Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, Diem issues a cease 
fire order to the palace guard and the palace falls to the insurgents. 
Colonel Thao, the commander of the attacking forces, learns of 
Diem's whereabouts and with JGS permission goes to arrest him. 

6:45 a.m. Diem and Nhu again escape 

Arriving at the Cholon house, Thao calls JGS and is overheard 
by the brothers who escape to a nearby Catholic church. 

222 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 11 

6:50 a.m. Diem and Nhu are captured 

Diem again calls General Don and surrenders, this time uncondi- 
tionally. He and Nhu are taken prisoner shortly thereafter and 
are murdered in the back of an armored personnel carrier en 
route to JGS. 

afternoon Vice President Tho confers on new government 

Vice President Tho enters into intensive conferences and negoti- 
ations with the coup committee on the composition of a new 
interim government which he will head. 

3 Nov 1963 Lodge meets with Generals Don and Kim 

Generals Don and Kim call on Lodge at the Embassy and apolo- 
gize for the absence of Minh who is closeted with Tho working 
on the composition of the new government. A two-tiered govern- 
ment is expected. A military committee chaired by General Minh 
will supervise a largely civilian cabinet under Tho's Prime Minis- 
tership. Lodge promises the immediate restoration of aid programs 
and assures the generals of forthcoming U.S. recognition. 

4 Nov 1963 Lodge meets with General Minh 

On instructions from Washington, Lodge meets with Minh and 
Don and urges them to make a clarifying statement on the deaths 
of Diem and Nhu to allay anxieties about the new leaders. Minh 
promises to do so and to announce the new government soon. 

5 Nov 1963 New government announced 

The new government is announced with Minh as President and 
Chief of the Military Committee. Tho is Premier, Minister of 
Economy and Minister of Finance. Don is Minister of Defense 
and Dinh is Minister of Security. Most other posts are filled by 
civilians, but there is a noticeable absence of well-known oppo- 
nents to Diem. A later announcement suspends the 1956 constitu- 
tion, and outlines the structure and functions of the new interim 

6 Nov 1963 Composition of the Military Revolutionary Council announced 

Saigon Radio announces the composition of the new Military 
Revolutionary Council with Minh as Chairman and including all 
important generals except Khanh. 

7 Nov 1963 NLF makes post-coup policy statement 

In a post-coup policy statement, the NLF lists eight demands of 
the new regime, all but one of which the Minh-Tho Government 
was going to do anyway. 

Brent meets with Tho on U.S. aid 

USOM Director Brent meets with Tho who indicated that all 
economic aid questions would be handled directly by his office. It 
was further agreed that a high-level Vietnamese commission would 
work with a similar group in the U.S. mission to establish eco- 
nomic and aid policies and levels. 

8 Nov 1963 

U.S. recognizes new government 

Lodge calls on the new Foreign Minister, Pham Dang Lam, and 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 223 

presents a note of U.S. recognition. The new government will 
be heavily dependent on the U.S. in all areas. 

9 Nov 1963 Embassy Saigon message 986 

In the weekly progress report, the mission notes the greatly in- 
creased VC activity in the week following the coup. The return of 
coup units to the field will reverse this trend, it is hoped. 

12 Nov 1963 CINCPAC message to JCS 120604Z 63 

CINCPAC takes note that the statistical indicators for the war 
(VC attacks, weapons loss ratio, VC defections) show deteriora- 
tion dating back to the summer. 

17 Nov 1963 NLF releases stronger set of demands 

Its first set of demands having been effectively preempted by the 
new Minh Government, the NLF release a new and stronger set 
of demands including that the U.S. influence be eliminated, the 
fighting be halted and that a coalition government be established. 
For the first time the NLF states that reunification of Vietnam 
is an objective. 

20 Nov 1963 Honolulu Conference 

The entire country team meets with Rusk, McNamara, Taylor, 
Bundy, and Bell to review the current situation. Lodge voices 
optimism about the new government, but notes the inexperience of 
the new leaders. We should not press them too hard. We should 
secondly pledge aid to them in at least the amounts we were giv- 
ing it to Diem. Brent notes the economic naivety of the generals 
and indicates the need for greater U.S. technical assistance to 
the government. Harkins' assessment is guardedly optimistic, 
taking note of the higher than average VC activity in the week 
after the coup. The determination of the new leaders impressed 
him, but he was concerned about the disruptions that wholesale 
replacements of province and district chiefs might have. 

Press release after Honolulu Conference 

The press release gives few details but does reiterate the U.S. in- 
tention to withdraw 1,000 troops by the end of the year. 

22 Nov 1963 Lodge confers with the President 

Having flown to Washington the day after the conference, Lodge 
meets with the President and presumably continues the kind of 
report given in Honolulu. 

23 Nov 1963 NSAM 273 

Drawing together the results of the Honolulu Conference and 
Lodge's meeting with the President, NSAM 273 reaffirms the 
U.S. commitment to defeat the VC in South Vietnam. It re- 
iterates the plan to withdraw 1,000 troops by year's end and to 
end the war in the first three corps areas by the end of 1964 and 
in the Delta by the end of 1965. U.S. support for the new regime 
is confirmed and aid in at least the amounts given to Diem is 
guaranteed. The Delta is to be the area of concentration for all 

r military, political, economic and social efforts. And clandestine 
operations against the North and into Laos are authorized. 

224 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 


In the spring of 1963, the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem seemed to exhibit no 
more signs of advanced decay or imminent demise than might have been dis- 
cerned since 1958 or 1959. Only in hindsight can certain developments be 
identified as salient. Of these, certainly the steadily increasing influence of the 
Nhus was the most ominous. Nhu came more and more to dominate Diem in 
the last year of the Diem rule. But as his power increased, Nhu's grip on reality 
seems to have slipped and he was reported in that last year to have been smok- 
ing opium and to have been mentally ill. Meanwhile, Mme. Nhu was developing 
a power obsession of her own. The catastrophic effect of their influence during 
the ensuing crisis, however, was impossible to have predicted. As one perceptive 
observer noted, the Ngo family "had come to power with a well-developed 
persecution complex and had subsequently developed a positive mania for 

Another source of concern should have been the regime's self-imposed 
isolation from the populace. It had left the peasants apathetic, a cause for real 
concern in a struggle with the zealous, doctrinaire Viet Cong; but, more im- 
portantly, it had alienated large portions of the restive urban population who 
felt most directly the impact of the regime's arbitrary rule. The regime, in fact, 
had no real base of political support and relied on the loyalty of a handful of 
key military commanders to keep it in power by forestalling any overthrow. 
The loyalty of these men was bought with promotions and favors. Graft 
and corruption should also have drawn concern, even if governmental dis- 
honesty was endemic in Asia, and probably not disproportionate at that time 
in South Vietnam. 

It was not, however, the strains that these problems had placed on the Viet- 
namese political structure that were ultimately decisive. The fundamental weak- 
ness of the Diem regime was the curious rigidity and political insensitivity of its 
mandarin style in the face of a dramatic crisis of popular confidence. 

With regard to the war, the consensus of the U.S. military mission and the 
U.S. intelligence community in the spring of 1963 was that the military situa- 
tion in South Vietnam was steadily improving and the war was beginning to 
be won. A National Intelligence Estimate in April 1963 concluded that the 
infusion of U.S. advisors had begun to have the desired effect of strengthening 
the ARVN and increasing its aggressiveness. [Doc. 121] The Viet Cong re- 
tained good strength, but could be contained by the ARVN if they did not 
receive a great increase in external support. Statistical indices showed a decline 
in Viet Cong attacks from the previous year, increased ARVN offensive activity, 
and improvement in the weapons loss ratio. Continuing problems were Diem's 
loyalty-based officer promotion policy, ARVN desertions and AWOL's, poor 
intelligence, and low grade NCO's and company grade officers. Nonetheless, 
the overall outlook was sanguine. Particular reason for encouragement was the 
adoption in February 1963 of the National Campaign Plan urged by the U.S. The 
hopeful prospects were summarized for Secretary McNamara in a briefing paper 
for the Honolulu Conference of May 6 : 

The over-all situation in Vietnam is improving. In the military sector 
of the counterinsurgency, we are winning. Evidences of improvement are 
clearly visible, as the combined impact of the programs which involve a 
long lead time begin to have effect on the Viet Cong. 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 225 

Even as seasoned an observer of insurgency as Sir Robert Thompson, Chief of 
the British Advisory Mission, was able to report that, "Now, in March 1963, 
I can say, and in this I am supported by all members of the mission, that the 
Government is beginning to win the shooting war against the Viet Cong." 

One reason for the optimism of these appraisals was the vigor with which 
the government, under the direction of Nhu, was pushing the Strategic Hamlet 
Program. Nhu had been initially cool to the idea, but once he established the 
U.S. willingness to fund the program, he focused on it as the principal vehicle 
of the counterinsurgency campaign and as an excellent means of extending the 
oligarchy's control into the countryside. In April the GVN claimed it had com- 
pleted 5,000 strategic hamlets and had another 2,000 under construction. There 
was already official U.S. misgiving, however, about the quality of many of the 
hamlets and about overextension of the country's limited human resources in 
the program's frantic rate of expansion. Nevertheless, field reports seemed to 
support the success of the program which was seen as the key to the struggle 
against the Viet Cong. 

U.S.-GVN relations in the spring of 1963 were beginning to show signs of 
accumulating stress. As the U.S. commitment and involvement deepened, fric- 
tions between American advisors and Vietnamese counterparts at all levels 
increased. Diem, under the influence of Nhu, complained about the quantity 
and zeal of U.S. advisors. They were creating a colonial impression among the 
people, he said. Diem chose to dramatize his complaint by delaying agreement 
on the commitment of South Vietnamese funds for joint counterinsurgency 
projects. The issue was eventually resolved, but the sensitivity to the growing 
U.S. presence remained and as the long crisis summer wore on, it gradually 
became a deep-seated suspicion of U.S. motives. 

The report of the Mansfield mission, published in March, further exacerbated 
relations between the two countries. Diem and Nhu were particularly incensed 
by its praise of Cambodian neutralism and criticism of their regime. Coup 
rumors began to circulate again that spring, and the prevailing palace state of 
mind hearkened back to suspicions of U.S. complicity in the abortive 1960 
coup. Mme. Nhu's ascorbic public criticism of the United States was a further 
source of friction. By May 1963, these problems in U.S.-GVN relations were 
already substantial enough to preoccupy officials of both governments. Within 
a matter of weeks, however, events thrust them into the background of a far 
more serious crisis. 



The incident in Hue on May 8, 1963, that precipitated what came to be 
called the Buddhist crisis, and that started the chain of events that ultimately 
led to the overthrow of the Diem regime and the murder of the Ngo brothers, 
happened both inadvertently and unexpectedly. No one then foresaw that it 
would generate a national opposition movement capable of rallying virtually 
all non-communist dissidence in South Vietnam. More importantly, no one 
then appreciated the degree of alienation of Vietnam's people from their gov- 
ernment, nor the extent of the political decay within the regime, a regime no 
longer capable of coping with popular discontent. 

The religious origins of the incident are traceable to the massive flight of 

226 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

Catholic refugees from North Vietnam after the French defeat in 1954. An 
estimated one million Catholics fled the North and resettled in the South. 
Diem, animated, no doubt, by religious as well as humanitarian sympathy, and 
with an eye to recruiting political support from his coreligionists, accorded 
these Catholic refugees preferential treatment in land redistribution, relief and 
assistance, commercial and export-import licenses, government employment, 
and other GVN largess. Because Diem could rely on their loyalty, they came 
to fill almost all important civilian and military positions. As an institution, 
the Catholic Church enjoyed a special legal status. The Catholic primate, Ngo 
Dinh Thuc, was Diem's brother and advisor. But prior to 1962, there had been 
no outright discrimination against Buddhists. However, among South Vietnam's 
3-4 million practicing Buddhists and the 80% of the population who were 
nominal Buddhists, the regime's favoritism, authoritarianism, and discrimina- 
tion created a smoldering resentment. 

In April 1963, the government ordered provincial officials to enforce a long- 
standing but generally ignored ban on the public display of religious flags. The 
order came just after the officially encouraged celebrations in Hue commem- 
orating the 25th anniversary of the ordination of Ngo Dinh Thuc, the Arch- 
bishop of Hue, during which Papal flags had been prominently flown. The order 
also came, as it happened, just prior to Buddha's birthday (May 8) — a major 
Buddhist festival. Hue, an old provincial capital of Vietnam, was the only real 
center of Buddhist learning and scholarship in Vietnam and its university had 
long been a center of left-wing dissidence. Not surprisingly, then, the Buddhists 
in Hue defiantly flew their flags in spite of the order and, when the local admin- 
istration appeared to have backed down on the ban, were emboldened to hold a 
previously scheduled mass meeting on May 8 to commemorate Buddha's birth- 
day. Seeing the demonstration as a challenge to family prestige (Hue was also 
the capital of the political fief of another Diem brother, Ngo Dinh Can) and to 
government authority, local officials tried to disperse the crowds. When pre- 
liminary efforts produced no results, the Catholic deputy province chief ordered 
his troops to fire. In the ensuing melee, nine persons were killed, including some 
children, and fourteen were injured. Armored vehicles allegedly crushed some 
of the victims. The Diem government subsequently put out a story that a Viet 
Cong agent had thrown a grenade into the crowd and that the victims had been 
crushed in a stampede. It steadfastly refused to admit responsibility even when 
neutral observers produced films showing government troops firing on the 

Diem's mandarin character would not permit him to handle this crisis with 
the kind of flexibility and finesse it required. He was incapable of publicly 
acknowledging responsibility for the tragedy and seeking to conciliate the angry 
Buddhists. He was convinced that such a public loss of face would undermine 
his authority to rule, oblivious to the fact that no modern ruler can long ignore 
massive popular disaffection whatever his own particular personal virtues may 
be. So the government clung tenaciously to its version of what had occurred. 

The following day in Hue over 10,000 people demonstrated in protest of the 
killings. It was the first of the long series of protest activities with which the 
Buddhists were to pressure the regime in the next four months. The Buddhists 
rapidly organized themselves, and on May 10, a manifesto of the Buddhist 
clergy was transmitted to the government demanding freedom to fly their flag, 
legal equality with the Catholic Church, an end of arrests and freedom to prac- 
tice their beliefs, and indemnification of the victims of the May 8th incident 
with punishment for its perpetrators. These five demands were officially pre- 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 227 

sented to President Diem on May 15, and the Buddhists held their first press 
conference after the meeting. Publicized hunger strikes and meetings continued 
throughout May, but Diem continued to drag his feet on placating the dis- 
senters or settling issues. On May 30, about 350 Buddhist monks demonstrated 
in front of the National Assembly in Saigon, and a 48-hour hunger strike was 
announced. On June 3, a demonstration in Hue was broken up with tear gas 
and several people were burned, prompting charges that the troops had used 
mustard gas. On June 4, the government announced the appointment of an 
interministerial committee headed by Vice President Tho to resolve the reli- 
gious issue, but by this time such gestures were probably too late. Large portions 
of the urban population had rallied to the Buddhist protest, recognizing in it the 
beginnings of genuine political opposition to Diem. On June 8, Mme. Nhu 
exacerbated the problem by announcing that the Buddhists were infiltrated by 

Throughout the early days of the crisis, the U.S. press had closely covered 
the events and brought them to the attention of the world. On June 11, the 
press was tipped off to be at a downtown intersection at noon. Expecting an- 
other protest demonstration, they were horrified to witness the first burning 
suicide by a Buddhist monk. Thich Quang Due's fiery death shocked the world 
and electrified South Vietnam. 

Negotiations had been taking place between Vice President Tho's committee 
and the Buddhists since June 5, with considerable acrimonious public question- 
ing of good faith by both sides. After the suicide, the U.S. intensified its already 
considerable pressure on the government to mollify the Buddhists, and to bring 
the deteriorating political situation under control. Finally, on June 16, a joint 
GVN-Buddhist communique was released outlining the elements of a settle- 
ment, but affixing no responsibility for the May 8 incident. Violent suppression 
by the GVN of rioting the next day, however, abrogated the spirit of the agree- 
ment. The Nhus, for their part, immediately undertook to sabotage the agree- 
ment by secretly calling on the GVN-sponsored youth organizations to 
denounce it. By late June, it was apparent that the agreement was not meant as 
a genuine gesture of conciliation by Diem, but was only an effort to appease the 
U.S. and paper over a steadily widening fissure in internal politics. 

The evident lack of faith on the part of the government in the June 16 
agreement discredited the conciliatory policy of moderation that the older 
Buddhist leadership had followed until that time. In late June, leadership of the 
Buddhist movement passed to a younger, more radical set of monks, with more 
far-reaching political objectives. They made intelligent and skillful political 
use of a rising tide of popular support. Carefully planned mass meetings and 
demonstrations were accompanied with an aggressive press campaign of oppo- 
sition to the regime. Seizing on the importance of American news media, they 
cultivated U.S. newsmen, tipped them off to demonstrations and rallies, and 
carefully timed their activities to get maximum press coverage. Not surprisingly, 
the Ngo family reacted with ever more severe suppression to the Buddhist activ- 
ists, and with acrimonious criticism and even threats to the American newsmen. 

Early in July, Vice President Tho's committee announced that a preliminary 
investigation of the May 8 incident had confirmed that the deaths were the 
result of an act of Viet Cong terrorism. Outraged, the Buddhists denounced 
the findings and intensified their protest activities. On July 19, under U.S. 
pressure, Diem made a brief two-minute radio address, ostensibly an expression 
of conciliation to the Buddhists, but so written and coldly delivered as to destroy 
in advance any effect its announced minor concessions might have had. 

228 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

Within the regime, Nhu and his wife were severely criticizing Diem for 
caving in under Buddhist pressure. Mme. Nhu publicly ridiculed the Buddhist 
suicide as a "barbecue," accused the Buddhist leaders of being infiltrated with 
communists, and construed the protest movement as Viet Cong inspired. Both 
Nhu and his wife worked publicly and privately to undermine Diem's feeble 
efforts at compromise with the Buddhists, and rumors that Nhu was considering 
a coup against his brother began to circulate in July. 

A U.S. Special National Intelligence Estimate on July 10 concluded with the 
perceptive prediction that if the Diem regime did nothing to implement the 
June 16 agreement and to appease the Buddhists, the likelihood of a summer 
of demonstrations was great, with the strong possibility of a non-communist 
coup attempt. [Doc. 21] By mid- August a week before Nhu launched general 
raids on Buddhist pagodas in Saigon and elsewhere, the CIA had begun to note 
malaise in the bureaucracy and the army: 

Since the Buddhist dispute with the Diem government erupted on 8 
May, there have been a series of reports indicating not only intensified 
plotting and grumbling among Diem's traditional non-Communist critics, 
but renewed restiveness and growing disaffection in official civilian and 
military circles over Diem's handling of the dispute. 

This estimate went on to detail numerous rumors of coup plots in existence 
since at least late June. But Nhu, in a bold move designed to frighten coup 
plotters, and to throw them off guard, had called in the senior generals on 
July 11, reprimanded them for not having taken action to squelch revolt, and 
questioned their loyalty to the regime. Nhu's move seemed to have tempo- 
rarily set back all plans for an overthrow. CIA also reported rumors that Nhu 
himself was planning a "false coup" to draw out and then crush the Buddhists. 

In August, Buddhist militancy reached new intensity; monks burned them- 
selves to death on the 5th, 15th, and 18th. The taut political atmosphere in 
Saigon in mid-August should have suggested to U.S. observers that a showdown 
was on the way. When the showdown came, however, in the August 21 raids on 
the pagodas, the U.S. mission was apparently caught almost completely off guard. 


The explanation of how the U.S. mission became detached from the realities 
of the political situation in Saigon in August 1963, is among the most ironic and 
tragic of our entire involvement in Vietnam. In dealing with Diem over the 
years, the U.S. had tried two radically different but ultimately equally unsuc- 
cessful approaches. Under Ambassador Elbridge Durbrow from the late '50s 
until 1961, we had used tough pressure tactics to bring Diem to implement 
programs and ideas we felt necessary to win the war against the Viet Cong. But 
Diem soon learned that the U.S. was committed to him as the only Vietnamese 
leader capable of rallying his country to defeat the communists. Armed with 
this knowledge he could defer action or ignore the Ambassador with relative 
impunity. He became adept at playing the role of offended lover. Thus by 1961, 
Durbrow was cut off from the palace, with little information about what was 
going on and even less influence over events. Under Frederick Nolting as U.S. 
Ambassador, the U.S. pursued a very different tactic. Forewarned not to allow 
himself to be isolated, Nolting set out through the patient cultivation of Diem's 
friendship and trust to secure a role for himself as Diem's close and confidential 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May— November, 1963 229 

advisor. But there had been no basic change in the American belief that there 
was no alternative to Diem, and Diem must have quickly sensed this, for he 
continued to respond primarily to family interest, at best only listening impa- 
tiently to Nolting's carefully put complaints, secure in the knowledge that 
ultimately the U.S. would not abandon him no matter what he did. Both tactics 
failed because of American commitment. No amount of pressure or suasion 
was likely to be effective in getting Diem to adopt ideas or policies which he 
did not find to his liking, since we had communicated our unwillingness to con- 
sider the ultimate sanction — withdrawal of support for his regime. We had 
ensnared ourselves in a powerless, no alternatives policy. 

The denouement of this policy, the ultimate failure of all our efforts to 
coerce, cajole and coax Diem to be something other than the mandarin that 
he was, came in the midnight attack on the pagodas on August 21. And it 
created a fundamental dilemma for U.S. policy with respect to Diem. On the 
one hand, withdrawal of support for his regime was the only lever likely to 
force Diem to redress the Buddhist grievances and to make the political reforms 
prerequisite for popular support in the common fight against the Viet Cong. 
On the other hand, withdrawal of U.S. support for Diem would be signal U.S. 
approval for an anti-Diem coup, with all its potential for political instability 
and erosion of the war effort. We found ourselves in this predicament not en- 
tirely unexpectedly. 

In May 1963, though it had failed to anticipate the Buddhist upheaval, the 
U.S. mission nevertheless quickly recognized the gravity of the threat to Diem 
and reported it to Washington. Nolting met with Diem on May 18 and outlined 
the steps he felt were necessary to retrieve the situation. These included a 
government acknowledgment of responsibility for the Hue incident, an offer 
to compensate the families of the victims, and a reaffirmation of religious equal- 
ity and nondiscrimination. As an alternative, he suggested an investigatory 
commission. Diem's noncommittal response led the Ambassador to think that 
Diem really believed the Viet Cong had caused the deaths and that the 
Buddhists had provoked the incident. Diem felt the U.S. was over-reacting to 
the events. Thus, at a critical time Nolting, in spite of his two years of careful 
groundwork, was unable to exercise any real influence over Diem. Nolting left 
on a well-deserved holiday and home leave shortly after this frustrating meeting. 

By the end of May, Washington had become concerned at Diem's failure to 
act, and at the widening Buddhist protest. The Charge d'Affaires, William True- 
hart, was instructed to press the GVN for action. Working with Secretary of 
State for Defense Thuan, Truehart tried to move the government toward negoti- 
ations with the Buddhists. After the demonstrations in Hue on June 3, the State 
Department instructed Truehart to tell Diem or Thuan that the U.S. also had a 
stake in an amicable settlement with the Buddhists. On the following day, True- 
hart met with Thuan and told him that U.S. support of South Vietnam could 
not be maintained if there was bloody repressive action in Hue. This seemed 
to get action. Later that day, Truehart was informed that Nolting's second 
suggestion had been adopted and a high-level commission had been named to 
settle the problem. The commission, headed by Vice President Tho, met belat- 
edly with the Buddhists on June 5. 

On June 8, Truehart had an interview with Diem to protest Mme. Nhu's 
public criticism of the Buddhists, which was poisoning the atmosphere for a 
settlement. When Diem refused to disavow her statements, Truehart threatened 
a U.S. "dissociation" from any future repressive measures to suppress demon- 
strations. Truehart left the meeting with the impression that Diem was more 

230 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

preoccupied with security measures than with negotiations. Nolting's low-key 
policy had by now been abandoned, both in Washington and in Saigon, in favor 
of a new tough line. 

The situation was dramatically altered by the first Buddhist suicide on June 
11. Alarmed, the State Department authorized Truehart to tell Diem that 
unless drastic action was taken to meet the Buddhist demands promptly, the 
U.S. would be forced to state publicly its dissociation from the GVN on the 
Buddhist issue. Truehart made his demarche on June 12. Diem replied that any 
such U.S. announcement would have a disastrous effect on the GVN-Buddhist 
negotiations. The negotiations finally got under way in earnest June 14 and the 
joint communique was issued June 16. 

Truehart made repeated calls on Diem in late June and early July, urging 
him in the strongest language to take some action indicating the government's 
intention to abide in good faith by the June 16 agreement. His effort's were 
unavailing. Diem was either noncommittal, or talked in generalities about the 
difficulties of the problem. 

On June 27, President Kennedy named Henry Cabot Lodge to replace Am- 
bassador Nolting effective in September. After a brief stop in Washington, 
Nolting was hurried back to Saigon on July 11 to make one last effort to get 
Diem to conciliate the Buddhists. Nolting, evidently resenting the pressure 
tactics used by Truehart, met immediately with Diem and tried to mollify him. 
He succeeded only in convincing Diem to make the shallow gesture of the July 
19 radio speech. Otherwise, Diem merely persisted in appeals for public har- 
mony and support of the government, without any real attempt to deal with the 
Buddhist grievances. 

Nolting spent his last month in Vietnam trying to repair U.S.-GVN relations 
and to move Diem to resolve the Buddhist crisis, but his attempts were con- 
tinually undercut by the Nhus both publicly and privately. They had grown in- 
creasingly belligerent about the Buddhists during the summer, and by August 
spoke often of "crushing" them. Washington asked Nolting to protest such in- 
flammatory remarks, and began to suspect Diem's capacity to conciliate the 
Buddhists in the face of Nhu sabotage. Nolting was instructed to suggest to 
Diem that Mme. Nhu be removed from the scene. Nolting asked Diem for a 
public declaration repudiating her remarks but after initially agreeing, Diem 
then demurred and postponed it. Finally, as a parting gesture to Nolting, he 
agreed on August 14 to make a statement. It came in the form of an interview 
with Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune. Diem asserted that 
conciliation had been his policy all along and that it was "irreversible." He 
further said, in direct contradiction of a previous remark by Mme. Nhu, that 
the family was pleased with Lodge's appointment. Washington was apparently 
satisfied by this statement, which Diem viewed merely as a going-away present 
for Nolting. Less than a week later, Nolting's two years of careful work and an 
American policy would be in a shambles, betrayed by Nhu's midnight raid on 
the pagodas. 

Underlying the prevailing U.S. view that there was no alternative to Diem 
was the belief that the disruptive effect of a coup on the war effort, and the dis- 
organization that would follow such a coup, could only benefit the VC, perhaps 
decisively. Military estimates and reports emanating from MACV through the 
summer of 1963 continued to reflect an optimistic outlook, indicating good rea- 
son to continue our support of Diem even in the face of his inept handling of 
the Buddhist crisis. In retrospect, it can be seen that by July the GVN position 
in the war had begun to seriously deteriorate. At the time, however, this weak- 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 231 

ening was not yet apparent. The then prevailing view also held that the Bud- 
dhist crisis had not yet detracted from the war effort, although its potential to 
do so was recognized. Secretary McNamara on July 19 told a press conference 
that the war was progressing well and that the Buddhist crisis had thus far not 
affected it. The intelligence community, however, had already begun to note 
depressing effects of the crisis on military and civilian morale. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. press corps was reporting a far different view of both 
the war and the Buddhist crisis, one which was, in retrospect, nearer the reality. 
In particular, they were reporting serious failures in the Delta in both military 
operations and the Strategic Hamlet Program. Typical of this reporting was an 
August 15 story in the New York Times by David Halberstam presenting a very 
negative appraisal of the war in the Delta. Such reports were vehemently re- 
futed within the Administration, most notably by General Krulak, the JCS Spe- 
cial Assistant for Counterinsurgency. At the lower echelons in the field, how- 
ever, there were many U.S. advisors who did not share Krulak's sanguine view 
of the war's progress. 

Within the Administration, no real low-risk alternative to Diem had ever 
been identified, and we had continued our support for his troublesome regime 
because Diem was regarded as the only Vietnamese figure capable of rallying 
national support in the struggle against the Viet Cong. The Buddhist crisis shat- 
tered our illusions about him, and increased the domestic U.S. political price 
to Kennedy of supporting Diem. But the only other option for us seemed a 
coup, with highly uncertain prospects for post-coup political stability. At a 
briefing for the President on July 4, the possibilities and prospects for a coup 
were discussed. [Doc. 123] It was the consensus that the Nhus could not be 
removed, but that there would surely be coup attempts in the next four months. 
Nolting's reported view, with which then Assistant Secretary of State, Roger 
Hilsman, did not entirely agree, was that a coup would most likely produce a 
civil war. Hilsman felt that the likelihood of general chaos in the wake of a 
coup was less than it had been the preceding year. (Notes on this briefing, re- 
produced in the Appendix, provide the first documentary evidence of highest 
level consideration of the ramifications of a coup.) 

In a meeting at State the following day, July 5, Ambassador Nolting, who 
had cut short his vacation to return to Washington in the wake of the Buddhist 
crisis, told Under Secretary of State George Ball: 

In his view if a revolution occurred in Viet-Nam which grew out of the 
Buddhist situation, the country would be split between feuding factions 
and the Americans would have to withdraw and the country might be lost 
to the Communists. This led to the question of how much pressure we 
could exert on Diem. Mr. Nolting replied that if we repudiated him on 
this issue his government would fall. The Ambassador believed that Diem 
would live up to the agreement (June 16) unless he believed that he was 
dealing with a political attempt to cause his overthrow. [Doc. 124] 

Earlier in the same interview he had said : 

. . . that although interference by the Nhus was serious, he believed 
that the GVN would be able to come through this one slowly. As to tac- 
tics, the more Diem was prodded the slower he went. While Nhu was trou- 
blesome he was chiefly responsible for gains which had been made in the 
provincial pacification program. [Doc. 124] 

232 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol II 

Nolting, no doubt, expressed similar views when he met with Secretary McNa- 
mara before returning to Saigon. 

In spite of the mounting political pressure on the President in Congress and 
in the press because of the Buddhist repressions, the Administration decided to 
send Nolting back for another try at getting Diem to settle the dispute with the 
Buddhists. Anxiety in Washington mounted as the summer wore on, and Nolt- 
ing's efforts with Diem produced evident progress. By the time of the August 
21 raids, Washington's patience with Diem was all but exhausted. 



Shortly after midnight on August 21, six days after Nolting's frustrated de- 
parture, Nhu, shattering any remaining illusions about the GVN's conciliatory 
approach to the Buddhists, and betraying Diem's parting pledge to Nolting, 
staged a general assault on Buddhist pagodas. In Saigon, Hue, and other coastal 
cities, the regime's private shock troops — the y.S.-trained SpecialJForces — and 
the combat police invaded the pagodas and arrested hundreds of^BudaTrrst- 
monks, effectively destroying an American policy and marking the beginning 
of the end of the Diem regime. 

On August 18, ten senior generals had met and decided that they would ask 
Diem for a declaration of martial law to permit them to return Buddhist monks 
from outside Saigon to their own provinces and pagodas, hopefully reducing 
tensions in the capital. Among those in attendance at the meeting were General 
Ton That Dinh, military governor of Saigon and commander of III Corps sur- 
rounding it, and General Huynh Van Cao, IV Corps commander, both of 
whom owed their positions to their loyalty to the regime. Either or both of them 
probably reported the outcome of this meeting to Diem and Nhu. 

In any case, Nhu had decided to eliminate the Buddhist opposition, and to 
confront the U.S. with a fait accompli on Lodge's arrival; he assumed the U.S. 
would protestingly acquiesce, as it always had in the past. On the afternoon of 
the 20th, Nhu met with a small group of generals, including Don, Khiem, and 
Dinh who presented the martial law proposal to him. Nhu, his own plans for 
the raids now far advanced, told them to take their proposal to Diem. At a 
meeting later that evening, Diem acquiesced in the generals' plan and at mid- 
night the decree was published under the signature of General Don, Chief of 
the Joint General Staff. Meanwhile, unbeknown to the generals, Nhu had already 
alerted Colonel Tung's Special Forces and the combat police. Once the facade 
of martial law was in place, so the army would be blamed for the raids, Nhu 
gave the word and the crackdown began. To further implicate the army, 
some of the combat police wore paratroop uniforms. Pagodas were ransacked 
in all the major South Vietnamese cities, and over 1400 Buddhists, primarily 
monks, were arrested. In the raid on Xa Loi pagoda in Saigon about thirty 
monks were wounded or injured, and several were subsequently listed as miss- 
ing; exact casualties were never established. Diem had approved the martial law 
decree without consulting his cabinet, but it was never established whether he 
knew of and approved Nhu's plans for the pagoda raids. Significantly, he never 
subsequently sought to dissociate himself from Nhu or the raids. 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 233 

While the martial law decree gave General Don command of all troops, in 
fact, General Dinh and Colonel Tung took their orders directly from the pal- 
ace. Thus, when the raids came, General Don was at JGS unaware. In a long 
discussion on August 23 with a CAS officer, he suggested that the martial law 
decree was only phase one of a larger Generals' plot. They were thrown off bal- 
ance, however, by the raids and by General Dinh's rapid assumption of local 
control of martial law in Saigon. 

In planning the raids, Nhu had been extremely careful not to have word leak 
to the U.S. mission (although the Buddhists and the U.S. press corps had been 
tipped off by their own informants). On the morning after the attack, Richard- 
son, the CIA chief and the senior American civilian in Saigon, emphatically de- 
nied to Halberstam any foreknowledge of the plan. To further isolate the U.S. 
from an accurate assessment during the operation, Nhu had the telephone lines 
to the Embassy and the homes of all senior U.S. personnel cut shortly after 
the raids got under way. His efforts had the desired effect. It was several days 
before the U.S. mission in Saigon and officials in Washington could piece to- 
gether what happened. In Washington, Harriman and Michael Forrestal, a 
member of McGeorge Bundy's staff at the White House, drafted a stiff public 
statement that was released by the State Department at 9:30 the following morn- 
ing. It deplored the raids as "a direct violation by the Vietnamese Government 
of assurances that it was pursuing a policy of reconciliation with the Buddhists." 
But the first U.S. intelligence reports, based on information from Nhu, accepted 
army responsibility for the raids, and treated their coincidence with the martial 
law decree as, in effect, a military coup. In an August 21 memorandum for 
the Secretary of Defense, the Director of DIA, General Carroll, wrote, "Al- 
though the military moves are based on an alleged presidential proclamation, 
the military leaders have, in effect, assumed full control." 

When the raids occurred, Lodge, Nolting, and Roger Hilsman, the Assistant 
Secretary of State for the Far East, had been conferring in Honolulu. Lodge was 
immediately instructed to proceed to Saigon. After a brief stop in Tokyo, Lodge 
touched down in Saigon at 9:30 p.m. on August 22, in an atmosphere charged 
with tension and official U.S. confusion. Awaiting him was a cable from Hils- 
man asking for a clarification of the situation. Had the military taken over and 
retained Diem as a figurehead; had Diem strengthened his own position by 
calling in the military; or were the Nhus really calling the shots? Within twenty- 
four hours, Lodge had sent a preliminary reply: there had been no coup, but 
there seemed also to be no diminution in the roles of the Nhus, although the 
power roles within the regime were unclear. 

That same day, the first military feelers had been put out from the Vietna- 
mese generals to determine what the U.S. reaction would be to a military coup. 
General Don, the commander of the armed forces under the martial law de- 
cree, had a long, rambling conversation with a CAS officer. He first outlined the 
true role the army had played in the events of August 20-21 and then inquired 
why the U.S. had blamed the army for the raids on the pagodas: 

General Don has heard personally that the military is being blamed by 
Vietnamese public for the attack on the pagodas. He said that the US 
Govt is at fault for this misconception because VOA announced that the 
military took action against the pagodas. Don queried why VOA did not 
admit that Colonel Tung's Special Forces and the Police carried out the 
action. Don believes this would help the military at this point. Don stated 
that the USA should now make its position known. 

234 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. 11 

In a conversation the same day with Rufus Phillips of USOM, General Kim, 
deputy to General Don, bitterly attacked Nhu, charging him with responsibility 
for the raids, and deploring his dominant role in the government. He said that 
unless the popular impression that the army was responsible for the raids were 
corrected, the army would be handicapped in its fight against the VC. He stated 
that a firm U.S. stand for the removal of the Nhus would unify the army and 
permit it to act against them. These two direct and obviously reinforcing re- 
quests for U.S. support for military action aimed at Nhu's ouster marked the 
formal beginning of the U.S. involvement in the protracted plotting against the 
Diem regime. Two senior civilians in the government, Diem's chef de cabinet, 
Vo Van Hai, and Secretary of State, Nguyen Dinh Thuan, were simultaneously 
telling U.S. contacts that Nhu's elimination from the government was vital 
and that the U.S. should take a strong stand against him. 

On August 24, Lodge cabled his appraisal of the situation to Washington, 
based on these conversations. "Nhu," he reported, "probably with full support 
of Diem, had a large hand in planning of action against Buddhists, if he did 
not fully master-mind it. His influence has also been significantly increased." 
Nhu had simply taken advantage of the concern of certain generals, possibly 
not fully informing the regular army of the planned action. Nonetheless, none 
of the important Saigon area troop commanders (Don, Dinh, and Tung) were 
presently disaffected with the regime. Furthermore, absence of clear-cut mili- 
tary leadership and troop strength in Saigon for a move against the Nhus would 
make U.S. support of such an action a "shot in the dark." 

For the State Department, the problem of clarifying the public record about 
the raids and affixing responsibility for them had become acute by August 24. 
The press reports emanating from Saigon had from the outset blamed Nhu for 
the raids, but VOA, with a large audience in Vietnam, continued to report the 
official U.S. position that the army was culpable. The accumulating evidence 
against Nhu and the likelihood of severe damage to army morale if VOA did 
not broadcast a clarification seemed to call for retractions. 

The second issue for Washington was Nhu. The generals had asked, in ef- 
fect, for a green light to move against him, but Lodge had cautioned against it. 
Hilsman reports that as he, Harriman, Forrestal, and Ball deliberated over the 
drafting of a reply on that Saturday morning, the statement of Thuan to Phil- 
lips that "under no circumstance should the United States acquiesce in what 
the Nhus had done," was given great weight. Admiral Felt telephoned Washing- 
ton from CINCPAC to support a strong U.S. stand against the Nhus. The unan- 
swered question, of course, was whether the Nhus could be removed without 
also sacrificing Diem, and if not, whether the resulting political instability would 
not have an even more detrimental effect on the war effort than maintaining 

The August 24 cable of instructions to Lodge resulting from these delibera- 
tions outlined an important, and subsequently controversial, new policy ap- 
proach for the U.S. in South Vietnam. Its opening paragraphs crisply set forth 
the new American view : 

It is now clear that whether military proposed martial law or whether 
Nhu tricked them into it, Nhu took advantage of its imposition to smash 
pagodas with police and Tung's Special Forces loyal to him, thus placing 
onus on military in eyes of world and Vietnamese people. Also clear that 
Nhu has maneuvered himself into commanding position. 

US Government cannot tolerate situation in which power lies in Nhu's 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May— November, 1963 235 

hands. Diem must be given chance to rid himself of Nhu and his coterie 
and replace them with best military and political personalities available. 

If, in spite of all your efforts, Diem remains obdurate and refuses, then 
we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved. [Doc. 

Lodge was instructed to tell the GVN the U.S. could not accept the actions 
against the Buddhists and that prompt dramatic steps to redress the situation 
must be taken. The key military leaders were to be privately informed that, 

. . . US would find it impossible to continue support GVN militarily 
and economically unless above steps are taken immediately which we rec- 
ognize requires removal of Nhus from the scene. We wish give Diem 
reasonable opportunity to remove Nhus, but if he remains obdurate, then 
we are prepared to accept the obvious implication that we can no longer 
support Diem. You may also tell appropriate military commanders we will 
give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown central gov- 
ernment mechanism. [Doc. 126] 

Finally, the message recognized the need to publicly exonerate the army from 
the raids and asked Lodge to approve a VOA broadcast to that effect. Lodge 
was requested, as well, to survey urgently for alternative leadership. 

Clearance of the draft message was complicated by the coincident week-end 
absence from Washington of most of the top level members of the Administra- 
tion. The President was in Hyannis Port; Rusk was in New York; and McNamara 
and McCone were away on vacation. Both the President and the Secretary of 
State were reached, however, and approved the draft. Deputy Secretary of De- 
fense Roswell Gilpatric approved for Defense, and General Taylor for the JCS. 
Schlesinger, in his account of the incident, suggests that the cable was hasty and 
ill-considered, and that the President immediately began to back away from it. 

Lodge replied the following day endorsing the strong position but proposing 
to forego a futile approach to Diem and to state our position instead only to the 
generals, thus throwing all our weight behind a coup. The cable stated: 

Believe that chances of Diem's meeting our demands are virtually nil. 
At the same time, by making them we give Nhu chance to forestall or 
block action by military. Risk, we believe, is not worth taking, with Nhu 
in control combat forces Saigon. Therefore, propose we go straight to Gen- 
erals with our demands, without informing Diem. Would tell them we pre- 
pared have Diem without Nhus but it is in effect up to them whether to 
keep him. [Doc. 127] 

Hilsman asserts that the cable also reflected Lodge's view that since our dis- 
approval of GVN action was well known, it was not fitting for the U.S. to go 
to Diem, it was Diem who should come to us. 

In a separate CAS cable the same day, Richardson, the CIA Chief of Station 
in Saigon, reported that at a meeting with Lodge and Harkins it had been agreed 
that Diem would not remove Nhu and that therefore, assuming State's cable 
of instructions on 24 August [Doc. 126] represented Washington's basic pol- 
icy, the consensus was that contact should be immediately made with generals 
such as Minh and Khanh to assess the degree of unity and determination of 
senior officers. Minh was considered the best possible interim leader, with Vice 
President Tho as the most attractive candidate for President among the civil- 


236 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

ians. The cable concluded with the view that a junta would probably operate be- 
hind the scenes in the event of a successful coup, and that the U.S. should leave 
the specific tactics of a coup up-to the generals. There is a hiatus in the available 
cable traffic at this point, but Hilsman indicates that Washington decided on 
Sunday, August 25, to defer a direct approach to Diem until more was known 
about the situation. 

In Lodge's reply, he had also apparently approved the proposed VOA broad- 
cast to exonerate the army. Hilsman briefed the press on the basis of a previ- 
ously approved draft statement on August 25. The statement expressed strong 
U.S. disapproval of the raids, which were attributed to Nhu. In reporting the 
story, the press speculated that such a strong statement probably indicated that 
measures such as aid suspension were being considered. VOA had been instructed 
to broadcast only the substances of the U.S. statement as provided in the press 
guidance and nothing more. The instructions somehow got mislaid; and on 
Monday morning, August 26, just several hours before Lodge was to present 
his credentials to Diem, VOA broadcast in full a UPI story which flatly asserted 
that "the US may sharply reduce its aid to Vietnam unless President Diem gets 
rid of secret police officials responsible for the attacks." Lodge was understand- 
ably upset, and sent a testy cable rhetorically inquiring whether he really was in 
Icharge of tactics as he had been given to understand. Rusk sent a personal ca- 
Ible of apology to Lodge, and VOA promptly broadcast a denial of U.S. intent 
jto cut aid, but the initial damage had been done. 

The Vietnamese reaction to the attack on the pagodas during this time had 
been dramatic. In the United States, Mme. Nhu's father and mother, respec- 
tively the Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S. and the Vietnamese observer at 
the UN, had both resigned, making bitter public statements denouncing the 
raids. In South Vietnam, the Foreign Minister, Vo Van Mau, had resigned and 
shaved his head like a Buddhist monk in protest. On August 23, students at the 
faculties of medicine and pharmacy at the University of Saigon turned out to 
stage mass demonstrations on behalf of the Buddhists. The GVN reacted in the 
only way it seemed to know, with massive arrests. But the demonstrations con- 
tinued, and when the university was closed, the protest was taken up by high 
school and junior high school students. These were dramatic evidences indeed 
of the degree of disaffection with the regime, since most of these students were 
from the middle class families that formed the bureaucracy and the army lead- 
ership. Students in Vietnam had no substantial record of political activism as 
was the case with their counterparts in other parts of Asia, like Korea. Fur- 
thermore, some of the Buddhist leadership had survived the raids and gone 
underground and were soon passing out leaflets on the streets again. On the day 
of the raids, two monks had taken refuge in the USOM building next door to 
Xa Loi pagoda. The following day, three others, including the militant young 
leader Tich Tri Quang, took refuge in the U.S. Embassy, where they were 
warmly received by Lodge and remained until the successful November coup. 


Rumors of coup plotting had been a standard part of the Saigon scene under 
Diem from the very beginning. And there had been several attempts. In 1957, 
an assassin fired at Diem at an up-country fair. In November 1960, he had nar- 
rowly escaped being overthrown by a military coup by negotiating with the 
dissident officers until loyal reinforcements could be moved into Saigon to re- 
store his control. And in 1962, two disgruntled Air Force pilots had unsuccess- 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Dier , Mny-Nov ember, 1963 237 

fully bombed and strafed the Gia Long Palace. Sojkvhen rumors of coup plot- 
ting began to gain currency again in the spring I ofIl963, they were monitored 
by the U.S. intelligence community, but not gr>CTi extraordinary prominence 
or credence. By mid-summer, however, with the Buddhist crisis in full bloom, 
more serious consideration was given to the growing number of reports identi- 
fying plotters and schemes. One plot, identified in late June, was led by Dr. 
Tran Kim Tuyen, Diem's Director of Political and Social Studies (national in- 
telligence). It involved elements of the Civic Action Ministry, the Information 
Ministry, the Secret Police, and some junior army officers. A separate plot in- 
volving other elements of the army was reported, and on July^ 8 General Don 
indicated to a CAS officer that there was support among all but a couple of 
generals for a coup. Nhu's July 11 meeting with the generals, however, seemed 
to disorient their efforts temporarily. In an August 14 memorandum, the CIA 
acknowledged some military support for a coup, but doubted that anyone would 
risk it unless a deterioration of the political situation threatened a Viet Cong 
victory. The pagoda attack was just such a deterioration and it precipitated the 
generals' first approach to the U.S. on August 23 about a coup. 

With State's instructions of 24 August as guidance, Lodge met with Harkins, 
Truehart, Mecklin, and Richardson on the morning of August 26 before pre- 
senting his credentials to Diem. They decided that the official U.S. hand should 
not show — i.e., Harkins should not talk to the generals. It was agreed that 
Lt. Colonel Conein of the CIA would contact General Khiem, and Mr. Spera 
(also of CIA) would contact General Khanh, II Corps commander in Pleiku, 
conveying the following points to each: 

a. Solidification of further elaboration of action aspects of present 
thinking and planning. What should be done? 

b. We in agreeme nt Nhus must^ go. 

c. Question of retaining Diem or not up to them. 

d. Bonzes and other arrestees must be released immediately and five- 
point agreement of 16 June be fully carried out. 

e. We will provide direct support during any interim period of break- 
down of central government mechanism. 

/. We cannot be of any help during initial action of assuming power of 
the state. Entirely their own action, win or lose. Don't expect to be bailed 

g. If Nhus do not go and if Buddhists' situation is not redressed as in- 
dicated, we would find it impossible continue military and economic sup- 

h. It is hoped bloodshed can be avoided or reduced to absolute mini- 

i. It is hoped that during process and after, developments conducted 
in such manner as to retain and increase the necessary relations between 
Vietnamese and Americans which will allow for progress of country and 
successful prosecution of the war. 

Conein met with Khiem on August 27, and after conveying his message 
learned that Minh was the leader of the cabal, which included also Generals 
Kim, Khanh, Thieu, and Le. Don was aware of the plot and approved, but was 
too exposed to participate. General Minh was under surveillance, and had 
asked not to be contacted by the U.S. Khiem recognized the need to neutralize 
General Cao, the IV Corps commander, General Dinh, the III Corps and Sai- 

238 Gravel Edition/The lieJjjfagon Papers /Vol. II 

gon Area commander, and Colonel Tung. A separate CAS report indicated that 
General Kim had charge of plans for the provisional successor government 
which would include both civilians and military, with Minh as President. 

Meanwhile, back in Washington, by the time the NSC met on Monday morn- 
ing, August 26, misgivings about supporting a coup — the policy outlined in 
State's August 24 message — had developed. Hilsman's account credits McNa- 
mara, Taylor, and McCone with second thoughts. Whatever the outcome of 
Monday's meeting, another was held the next day, after which Lodge was ca- 
bled for more details about the coup plans, and an assessment of their chances 
of success. Reflecting the reservations in Washington, the message asked what 
effect delaying the coup would have. 

Replying the following day, Lodge gave a favorable assessment of coup pros- 
pects; expressed confidence in the generals who were to lead it, especially Minh, 
Khanh, and Kim; and argued, "that chances of success would be diminished by 
delay." A cable from Harkins to Taylor on the same day is the first documen- 
tary indication of Harkins' reservations about supporting the coup attempt. 
Cryptically, Harkins indicated that he would offer his full support to the Ambas- 
sador in implementing State's instructions, but noted that, "Reference b. (CINC- 
PAC 2504562 Aug 1963) advises me that reference a. (State 243) embodies 
CINCPAC opinion and that my support had been volunteered." He would have 
preferred one last attempt to persuade Diem to dispense with Nhu. Further- 
more, the line-up of forces did not indicate a clear-cut advantage for the coup 
plotters. Therefore, he stated, "In my opinion as things stand now I don't be- 
lieve there is sufficient reason for a crash approval on our part at this time." 
He also had concluded that the coup would not take place until we gave the 
word. In a separate message, Richardson, however, described the situation as 
having "reached the point of no return." [Doc. 129] Further, he concluded, 
"Unless the generals are neutralized before being able to launch their opera- 
tion, we believe they will act and that they have good chance to win." [Doc. 

In Washington, State and Defense were divided on the issue. Nolting, who 
was regularly attending the daily NSC meetings at the President's request, 
sided with the Pentagon in the view that prospects for the coup were not good, 
and that another effort should be made with Diem. Hilsman, Harriman, and 
Ball were convinced the U.S. had to get on with the coup, since Diem offered no 
prospect of complying the U.S. wishes. The discussions in the NSC, reportedly, 
were increasingly heated and testy. The division of opinion between Harkins 
and Lodge concerned the President and upon receipt of their respective mes- 
sages on August 28, he cabled each of them separately for their "independent 
judgment" about the prospects for a coup and their personal advice on the 
course the U.S. should pursue. The President was at pains to reiterate his great 
confidence in both men, and to assure them that differences of opinion in 
Washington would not prevent the U.S. government from acting as a unit un- 
der his direction. In a separate message, State asked Lodge to indicate the lat- 
est point at which the operation could be suspended, and with what conse- 
quences; since U.S. prestige would be engaged in the venture, the message 
stated, once the coup were under way, it had to succeed. Lodge was also asked 
what actions the U.S. might take to promote the coup. 

On August 29, Colonel Conein and Mr. Spera met with Generals Khiem and 
Minh. Minh bluntly said that the generals had to be cautious until they had 
clear evidence that the U.S. would not betray them to Nhu. They were unwill- 
ing to discuss their plans, and when asked what would constitute a sign of U.S. 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 239 

support, replied that the U.S. should stop economic aid to the regime. In a sub- 
sequent separate contact with Rufus Phillips, General Kim asked for verifica- 
tion that the Minh-Conein meeting had Lodge's approval. After checking 
with Lodge, Phillips assured Kim who then asked for a meeting to discuss 
planning on the next day. Lodge then authorized CAS to assist in tactical plan- 

Stressing the generals' reported lack of confidence in U.S. support, Lodge's 
reply to Washington asked Presidential permission for Harkins to show CAS 
messages to the generals to prove our commitment. If that failed, he reluctantly 
recommended suspension of economic aid as they requested. Typical of the 
Ambassador's all-out support for the coup is the following summary he gave of 
the U.S. position: 

We are launched on a course from which there is no respectable turn- 
ing back: The overthrow of the Diem Government. There is no turning 
back in part because US prestige is already publicly committed to this end 
in large measure and will become more so as facts leak out. In a more 
fundamental sense, there is no turning back because there is no possibility, 
in my view, that the war can be won under a Diem administration, still less 
that Diem or any member of the family can govern the country in a way 
to gain the support of the people who count, i.e., the educated class in and 
out of government service, civil and military — not to mention the American 
people. [Doc. 132] 

Harkins, on the other hand, felt that there was still time to make one last ap- 
proach to Diem, without endangering the plotters, since their plans did not 
appear fully mature yet. Diem should be handed an ultimatum that the Nhus 
must go. This, he felt, would strengthen the hand of the generals whose opposi- 
tion, like ours, was to the Nhus, not Diem. If Diem did not act, there would then 
be time to back a move by the generals. 

These views were all reviewed at the noon meeting of the NSC on August 
29. At the meeting, McNamara backed Harkins' view in favor of a final approach 
to Diem, but the issue was not decided. Rusk took up the question in a subse- 
quent cable to Lodge, asking Lodge's opinion about an approach to Diem, pos- 
sibly by the generals at a time when they would be ready to act, in which they 
would insist on the removal of the Nhus, and threaten withdrawal of U.S. sup- 
port. [Doc. 131] A separate State cable to Lodge and Harkins authorized the 
latter to show CAS cables to the generals to prove our support. Harkins was in- 
structed to insist on knowing the personnel involved in the coup, and the 
forces available, and to ask to review the detailed plans, without, however, di- 
rectly involving himself in the coup planning. Lodge was authorized to suspend 
aid to Diem, "at a time and under conditions of your choice." 

In his response to Rusk's cable, Lodge stoutly opposed any further contact 
with Diem, even to present an ultimatum. Agreeing that removal of the Nhus 
was the prime objective, Lodge argued, "This surely cannot be done by working 
through Diem. In fact, Diem will oppose it. He wishes he had more Nhus, not 
less. The best chance of doing it is by the generals taking over the government 
lock, stock and barrel. After this has been done, it can then be decided whether 
to put Diem back in again or go on without him." [Doc. 134] What genuinely 
concerned Lodge at that point was the lack of action by the generals, but he 
was reluctant to use the aid suspension as a lever. 

Throughout this period, another CAS officer had been in contact with a 

240 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/VoL II 

Colonel Thao, an inspector of strategic hamlets, who was the leader of an in- 
dependent junior officer-civilian plot. On August 30, he told the CAS officer 
that he was in touch with the generals, and would support any move they 
might make, but that for the moment the plans of his group had stopped be- 
cause the risk of failure was too great. 

With Lodge's anxiety at the generals' failure to act increasing daily, Gen- 
eral Harkins met with General Khiem on August 31. He was told that Minh 
had called off the coup for the time being because of the inability to achieve a 
i favorable balance of forces in the Saigon area, and because of continuing anxiety 
among the generals about Richardson's close identification with the Nhus. 
Both Richardson and Lodge confirmed the end of this coup attempt on the 
same day. Apparently unable to win over General Dinh, the Saigon III Corps 
area commander, Minh had decided not to risk an indecisive, protracted blood 
bath with only a slim likelihood of success. Three factors appear to have been 
important in Minh's decision to abort the coup: (1) the failure to win over 
Dinh, leaving the coup forces at a tactical disadvantage in the Saigon area; 
(2) continuing doubts about the firmness of the U.S. commitment to Diem's 
overthrow and the related concern that the U.S. had wittingly or unwittingly 
tipped off Nhu to the plot; and (3) uncertainty about the cohesion of the coup 
group and the firmness of plans. Lodge concluded somewhat bitterly, 
". . . there is neither the will nor the organization among the generals to accom- 
plish anything." He did not, however, rule out a future attempt. 


Having at long last decided to seek an alternative to the Diem regime by 
sanctioning a coup, only to have the attempt fail, the U.S. found itself at the 
end of August 1963 without a policy and with most of its bridges burned. In 
both Saigon and Washington, the reappraisal and the search for alternatives be- 
gan anew. In the cable acknowledging the demise of the coup plot on August 
31, Lodge suggested that: 

Perhaps an arrangement could be worked out whereby the following 
could be made to happen: Madame Nhu to leave the country, Mr. Nhu's 
functions to be limited entirely to strategic hamlets; the office of Prime 
Minister to be created and Mr. Thuan to become Prime Minister; Arch- 
bishop Thuc to leave the country. In addition, the students and Buddhists 
would be liberated; Decree Law 10 would be repealed; the pagodas would 
be repaired and conciliatory gestures would be made. All of this, if agreed 
to, might be announced by President in Washington. 

These suggestions became the basis of discussion of a "where do we go from 
here" NSC meeting on the same day. 

In the absence of the President, Secretary Rusk chaired the meeting at the 
State Department, and called for consideration of the Lodge proposals, but said 
he felt it was unrealistic to start off by asserting that Nhu must go. Secretary 
McNamara urged that we "establish quickly and firmly our line of communica- 
tion between Lodge, Harkins and the GVN." He pointed out that "at the mo- 
ment our channels of communication are essentially broken" and that "they 
should be reinstituted at all costs." These considerations were soon submerged, 
however, in a broader discussion of the negative impact of the regime's actions 
on the war effort. Hilsman, supported by State's Kattenburg of the Vietnam 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 241 

Working Group, argued that we should not continue our support of a Nhu- 
dominated regime because its repressive policies would eventually have a dis- 
astrous effect on the war, even if the statistics did not yet reveal their nega- 
tive impact. Hilsman and Kattenburg pointed to the growing disaffection and 
restiveness of middle level bureaucrats and military officers as a factor which 
would steadily erode the military effort. Unconvinced, both Secretary McNamara 
and General Taylor asked for evidence of this development. 

Kattenburg offered his estimate that we would be thrown out of the country 
in six months if the regime remained in power and that the question the meet- 
ing should be considering was "the decision to get out honorably." Taylor and 
Nolting immediately took exception to these views and Secretary Rusk remarked 
that they were "largely speculative." He continued, "that it would be far better 
for us to start on the firm basis of two things — that we will not pull out of Viet- 
nam until the war is won, and that we will not run a coup." Secretary McNa- 
mara and Vice President Johnson supported Rusk's views, the Vice President 
saying he had never really seen an alternative to Diem. The meeting ended in- 
conclusively; the only decision taken was to ask for Lodge's advice. [Doc. 

As the only documented meeting during this period of major policy deliber- 
ation, the August 31 meeting is significant for the viewpoints it reveals. Ram- 
bling inability to focus the problem, indeed to reach common agreement on 
the nature of the problem, reflects disorientation in the aftermath of the ini- 
tial failure. More importantly, however, the meeting is the first recorded oc- 
casion in which someone followed to its logical conclusion the negative analysis 
of the situation — i.e., that the war could not be won with the Diem regime, 
yet its removal would leave such political instability as to foreclose success in 
the war: for the first time, it was recognized that the U.S. should be consider- 
ing methods of honorably disengaging itself from an irretrievable situation. 
The other alternative, not fully appreciated until the year following, was a 
much greater U.S. involvement in and assumption of responsibility for the 
war. At this point, however, the negative analysis of the impact of the political 
situation on the war effort was not shared by McNamara, Taylor, Krulak, nor 
seemingly by Rusk. / 

But discussions were overtaken by events. On the following Monday, Sep- 
tember 2, the President, appearing on the initial broadcast of the CBS Evening 
News, was interviewed by Walter Cronkite: 

Mr. Cronkite: "Mr. President, the only hot war we've got running at 
the moment is of course the one in Viet-Nam, and we have our difficulties 
here, quite obviously." 

President Kennedy: "I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by 
the Government to win popular support that the war can be won out 
there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to 
win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can 
send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it — the people of 
Viet-Nam — against the Communists. We are prepared to continue to assist 
them, but I don't think that the war can be won unless the people support 
the effort, and, in my opinion, in the last two months the Government has 
gotten out of touch with the people. 

"The repressions against the Buddhists, we felt, were very unwise. Now 
all we can do is to make it very clear that we don't think this is the way to 
win. It is my hope that this will become increasingly obvious to the Gov- 

242 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

ernment, that they will take steps to try to bring back popular support for 
this very essential struggle." 

Mr. Cronkite: "Do you think this Government has time to regain the 
support of the people?" 

President Kennedy: "I do. With changes in policy and perhaps with 
personnel, I think it can. If it doesn't make those changes, I would think 
that the chances of winning it would not be very good." 

Confronted by the necessity of public comment, the President had spoken 
boldly and forthrightly. The President's call for changes of policy and person- 
nel patently conveyed the message that the Buddhist repressions must end, 
and the Nhus must go. Later in the same interview, however, the President had 
said, "... I don't agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would 
be a great mistake." As Hilsman summarized it later, 

We had embarked on a policy that avoided the extremes both of with- 
drawing from Vietnam or of actually taking part in direct action to change 
the Government. The policy was one of trying to discriminate by continu- 
ing to support those Vietnamese who were struggling against the Commu- 
nists but maintaining the tension of our disapproval of Diem's and Nhu's 
repressive policies. 

It was, in effect, the policy Lodge had proposed. 

Meanwhile in Saigon, Lodge had gone ahead with his proposals. He contin- 
ued to avoid any official contact with Diem, but on September 2 he had his 
second meeting with Nhu (the first on August 27 was an inconclusive state- 
ment of positions on each side) in company with the Italian Ambassador and 
the Papal Delegate. Nhu, perhaps encouraged by a collateral intercession of the 
French Ambassador, announced he intended to resign from the government for 
good and retire to Dalat. A GVN announcement would state that the prog- 
ress of the program against the Viet Cong permitted his departure. Mme. Nhu 
was to leave Vietnam for a trip to Yugoslavia, Italy, and possibly the U.S. The 
Papal Delegate would arrange for Archbishop Thuc to leave the country. Some 
measures to ease Buddhist tensions would be taken and, as a public relations 
gesture, a prime minister would be appointed. These were all proposals which 
Lodge had initially advanced. But as the days passed, nothing happened and 
Lodge grew impatient. Contributing to his concern were the frequent and often 
contradictory rumors that Nhu was secretly dealing with Hanoi and/or the 
VC through the French and the Polish Ambassadors, both of whose govern- 
ments favored a neutralist solution between North and South Vietnam. 

For the remainder of the week, the Italian Ambassador and the Papal Dele- 
gate urged Nhu to act on his promises to Lodge. On Friday, September 6, after 
they had stressed the urgency for action created by Senator Church's rumored 
aid-suspension resolution, Nhu went into a tirade and said he would not consider 
leaving the country. He did, however, say he would "formally" resign. On the 
following day, the Papal Delegate, who had condemned Archbishop Thuc's ac- 
tivity to the Vatican and received the Pope's support, got Thuc out of the coun- 
try. Mme. Nhu left the country for Europe on September 9. The arrests of 
students by the regime, however, continued and stories of torture and atrocities 
began to circulate. 

In Washington, the NSC met on September 6 and renewed the discussion of 
reopening "tough negotiations" with Diem. Lodge, of course, opposed this while 
continuing his dialogue with Nhu. But others at the meeting (presumably in- 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 243 

eluding McNamara on the basis of his views at the August 31 meeting) urged 
that Lodge be instructed to make another approach to Diem. Lodge was accord- 
ingly instructed to clarify for Diem the U.S. position and explain the difficult 
position his policy placed us in with respect to U.S. and world opinion. 

Perhaps the most important discussion at the meeting was that engendered 
by Robert Kennedy over the fundamental purpose of the U.S. involvement. 
According to Hilsman, Robert Kennedy said: 

As he understood it we were there to help the people resisting a Com- 
munist take-over. The first question was whether a Communist take-over 
could be successfully resisted with any government. If it could not, now 
was the ti me to get nut of Vietnam entirely, rather than waiting. If the 
answer was that it could, but not with a Diem-Nhu government as it was 
now constituted, we owed it to the people resisting Communism in Viet- 
nam to give Lodge enough sanctions to bring changes that would permit 
successful resistance. But the basic question of whether a Communist take- 
over could be successfully resisted with any government had not been 
answered, and he was not sure that anyone had enough information to 
answer it. 

Kennedy's trenchant analysis, however, did not generate a searching reappraisal 
of U.S. policy. It did stimulate further efforts to get more information on the 
situation. McNamara proposed sending General Krulak on an immediate fact- 
finding trip. It was agreed that a senior Foreign Service Officer with Vietnam 
experience, Joseph Mendenhall, would accompany him, and that they would 
bring John Mecklin, the USIS director, and Rufus Phillips, the director of rural 
programs for USOM, back with them to report. Krulak and Mendenhall left 
later that day. State, for its part, sent Saigon a long comprehensive cable of 
questions on Vietnamese attitudes at all levels of society. 

The purpose of the Krulak-Mendenhall mission was to assess, in Krulak's 
words, "the effect of recent events upon the attitudes of the Vietnamese in gen- 
eral, and upon the war effort against the Viet Cong." In a whirlwind four-day 
trip, the two men visited throughout Vietnam and returned to Washington to 
report. Krulak went to ten different locations in all four corps areas and spoke 
with the Ambassador, General Harkins and his staff, 87 U.S. advisors, and 22 
Vietnamese officers. Mendenhall went to Saigon, Hue, Da Nang, and several 
other provincial cities and talked primarily to old Vietnamese friends. Not sur- 
prisingly, their estimates of the situation were almost completely opposite. 

The NSC convened on the morning of September 10, immediately after their 
return, to hear their reports. Krulak gave a very optimistic appraisal of the 
progress of the war and discounted the effect of the political crisis on the army. 
The following, in his own words, were his general conclusions: 

The shooting war is still going ahead at an impressive pace. It has been 
affected adversely by the political crisis, but the impact is not great. 

There is a lot of war left to fight, particularly in the Delta, where the 
Viet Cong remain strong. 

Vietnamese officers of all ranks are well aware of the Buddhist issue. 
Most have viewed it in detachment and have not permitted religious dif- 
ferences significantly to affect their internal military relationship. 

Vietnamese military commanders, at the various echelons, are obedient 
and could be expected to execute any order they view as lawful. 

244 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

The U.S./Vietnamese military relationship has not been damaged by 
the political crisis, in any significant degree. 

There is some dissatisfaction, among Vietnamese officers, with the 
national administration. It is focused far more on Ngo Dinh Nhu than 
on President Diem. Nhu's departure would be hailed, but few officers 
would extend their necks to bring it about. 

Excluding the very serious political and military factors external to 
Vietnam, the Viet Cong war will be won if the current U.S. military and 
sociological programs are pursued, irrespective of the grave defects in the 
ruling regime. 

Improvements in the quality of the Vietnamese Government are not 
going to be brought about by leverage applied through the military. They 
do not have much, and will probably not use what they have. 

This sanguine view of the situation was forcefully disputed by Mendenhall. He 
argued that the disaffection with the regime had reached the point where a 
breakdown of civil government was threatened, and the possibility of a religious 
civil war could not be excluded. The war could not be won with the present 
regime, he concluded. The polar opposition of these two reports prompted 
Kennedy's now famous query, "You two did visit the same country, didn't 

The critical failure of both reports was to understand the fundamental po- 
litical role that the army was coming to play in Vietnam. It was the only po- 
tential force with sufficient power to constitute an alternative to Diem. Diem 
and Nhu fully understood this fact, and had coped with it by usurping the pre- 
rogative of senior officer promotion, and basing those promotions on loyalty 
to the palace. This had sown deep seeds of distrust among the senior military 
men, and fragmented their potential power. Krulak failed to see that once the 
internal political situation deteriorated to the point where massive disaffection 
with the regime threatened a communist victory, the generals would unite and 
plunge into politics out of common necessity. But more importantly, neither 
Krulak nor Mendenhall seemed to anticipate that, if the army achieved power, 
the divisive effect of Diem's preferential promotion politices would surface in 
an internal army power struggle. Nor did they fully understand the negative 
effect on the war effort this preoccupation with politics among the generals 
would have. 

Nolting took issue with Mendenhall's appraisal, noting that Mendenhall had 
been pessimistic about prospects in Vietnam for several years. But John Mecklin, 
the USIS director, corroborated Mendenhall's view, and pushed it even further, 
saying that the U.S. should apply direct pressure, such as suspension of non- 
military aid, to bring about a change of government. In Mecklin's words: 

This would unavoidably be dangerous. There was no way to be sure 
how events would develop. It was possible, for example, that the Viet- 
namese forces might fragment into warring factions, or that the new gov- 
ernment would be so incompetent and/or unstable that the effort against 
the Viet Cong would collapse. The US should therefore resolve now to 
introduce American combat forces if necessary to present a Communist 
triumph midst the debris of the Diem regime. 

Mecklin appreciated the potential for instability inherent in any army successor 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 245 

regime that Krulak and Mendenhall had not seen. But he, nevertheless, con- 
cluded that we should proceed to bring about a change of government, accept 
the consequences, and contemplate the introduction of U.S. combat troops to 
stave off a Viet Cong victory. 

The meeting went on to hear Rufus Phillips' dour report on the situation in 
the Delta, and his doubts about the validity of Krulak's optimistic outlook on 
the military situation. Phillips argued that this was primarily a political contest 
for the allegiance of people, not a military war, and that the Diem regime was 
losing it. The Strategic Hamlet Program was a shambles in the field, especially 
in the Delta. The meeting ended on this note and no decisions were made. 

One course of action being given increasing consideration in these meetings, 
as well as in Saigon and on Capitol Hill, was a suspension of non-military aid 
to Diem. After the erroneous VOA announcement of aid suspension on August 
26, Lodge had been authorized on August 29, as already noted, to suspend aid 
at his discretion if it would facilitate the coup. Lodge had been reluctant to do 
so. The question had been raised again in a joint State/AID cable to Lodge on 
September 3 which listed the items currently up for approval or renewal. Lodge 
was informed that all approval for non-military aid would be temporarily held 
up but that no suspension was to be announced, since such a policy decision 
was still pending. Lodge took advantage of this by having the mission, and 
especially USOM, reply to all GVN inquiries about the status of the aid renew- 
als or approvals that President Diem would have to talk to Lodge about it. 
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate began to put pressure on the Administration to 
do something about Diem. Hilsman was badgered by the Senate Subcommittee 
on the Far East, and there were threats of further cuts in the AID bill if some- 
thing wasn't done. Senator Church informed the Administration he intended to 
introduce soon a resolution condemning Diem's represssions against the Bud- 
dhists and calling for an end of aid to South Vietnam unless they were aban- 
doned. He agreed to delay its introduction temporarily so as not to embarrass 
the Administration. 

The idea of a selective aid suspension to goad Diem into action was 
actively discussed at State during the Krulak-Mendenhall mission, and later 
John Mecklin had specifically suggested it to the NSC. On September 8, AID 
Director David Bell warned in a TV interview that the Congress might cut aid to 
South Vietnam if the Diem government did not change its policies. On Mon- 
day, September 9, however, the President, in a TV interview for the new 
Huntley-Brinkley News, said, "I don't think we think that (a reduction of U.S. 
aid to South Vietnam) would be helpful at this time." On September 11, the 
day after the President received the Krulak-Mendenhall reports, Lodge re- 
versed his previous position, and in a long cable proposed that detailed con- 
sideration be given to ways in which non-military aid suspension might be used 
as a sanction to topple the government. He had concluded we could not get 
satisfaction from Diem, and had to face up to the unpleasant task of forcing 
events. This view was reinforced the next day in a long series of cables reply- 
ing to State's September 7 request for a comprehensive evaluation of South 
Vietnamese attitudes. 

Lodge's proposal, and a proposal by Hilsman for a combined set of public 
and private measures to bring pressure on Diem, formed the basis of a White 
House meeting on September 11. On the following day, Senator Church was 
given the green light and introduced his resolution. On September 14, Lodge 
was informed that approval of the $18.5 million remainder of the commercial 
import program (the principal piastre support, anti-inflation aid device) was 

246 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

deferred until basic U.S. policy decisions had been made. The decision on aid 
suspension was now absorbed into the broader consideration of a set of coordi- 
nated measures to put pressure on the GVN. 

Throughout September, the division of opinion within the U.S. mission in 
Saigon had grown sharper and sharper. Harkins, Richardson, and to a lesser 
extent Brent (Director of USOM), did not believe that the Diem government's 
bungling of the Buddhist crisis and loss of popular support were threatening the 
war effort, or that the crisis was as serious as Lodge, Mecklin, Mendenhall, 
et ah, portrayed it. In any case, the situation was not so irretrievable as to re- 
quire a U.S. abandonment of Diem in a risky venture at coup-making towards 
an unknown alternative. The opposite view was held by Lodge, Truehart, Meck- 
lin, Phillips, and the majority of the junior officers in the mission. By 
mid-September, the debate had reached a shrill and acrimonious level, as the 
following excerpt from a Harkins' cable to Taylor indicates: 

As everyone else seems to be talking, writing and confusing the issue 
here in Vietnam, it behooves me to also get into the act: From most of the 
reports and articles I read, one would say Vietnam and our programs here 
are falling apart at the seams. Well, I just thoroughly disagree. 

The situation was of such concern that CIA dispatched a special officer to reach 
an independent evaluation. His conclusion was that we had hastily expended 
our capability to overthrow the regime, that an aid suspension would not 
guarantee a constructive result, and that to prevent further political fragmen- 
tation we should adopt a "business as usual" policy to buy time. Amidst all 
this internal U.S. dissension, the GVN announced on September 14 that martial 
law would end on September 16 and that National Assembly elections would be 
held September 27. 

In Washington, the NSC convened again September 17 to consider two al- 
ternative proposals for dealing with Diem prepared by Hilsman. The first, which 
Hilsman and others at State favored, was the "pressures and persuasion track," 
and involved an escalatory ladder of measures both public and private, including 
selective aid suspension, to coerce Diem into getting rid of Nhu and taking steps 
to restore the political situation. The alternative proposal, the "reconciliation 
with a rehabilitated GVN track," involved a public posture of acquiescence in 
recent GVN actions, recognition that Diem and Nhu were inseparable, and a 
decision to salvage as much as possible from a bad situation. This, of course, 
would have involved a reopening of the dialogue with Diem, to which Lodge 
was opposed. Both proposals assumed that for the moment a coup was out of 
the question. 

There are no available records of what transpired in the meeting, but two 
decisions were clearly made. The first was, in effect, to adopt Hilsman's "pres- 
sures and persuasion" proposal. The guidance cable to Lodge after the meeting, 
however, came from the White House. It stated that, 

We see no good opportunity for action to remove present government 
in immediate future; therefore, as your most recent message suggests, 
we must, for the present, apply such pressures as are available to secure 
whatever modest improvements on the scene may be possible . . . Such 
a course, moreover, is consistent with more drastic effort as and when 
means became available. [Doc. 136] 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 247 

Lodge was to press for a reduction of Nhu's authority and his departure from 
Saigon, at least temporarily. The cable included a long list of other measures 
for the GVN to take to redress the political situation and gave Lodge complete 
control over the aid program to enhance his bargaining position. 

This authorization specifically includes aid actions currently held in 
abeyance and you are authorized to set those in train or hold them up 
further in your discretion. We leave entirely in your hands decisions on 
the degree of privacy or publicity you wish to give to this process. 
[Doc. 136] 

There is no evidence on the degree of consensus of the principals in this decision. 

Lodge replied to the new policy guidance on September 19 in a generally 
negative vein. The proposals for specific actions by the GVN had all been 
previously suggested to Diem without any results, and Lodge was not optimistic 
about their adoption now. He specifically felt that he should not be required to 
make a futile overture to Diem. The Ambassador's aloofness was beginning to 
cause official concern at the palace, and he felt he should press views on the 
Ngo family only when they initiated the contact. He did not think a public 
relations effort was likely to have any effect on the regime, whose appreciation 
of questions of public support was virtually nil. Withholding aid was another 
delicate matter that did not offer great prospects of success. Lodge was par- 
ticularly concerned that such action would impede the war effort or damage 
the economy, but have no real effect on the regime. No doubt recalling the 
generals' previous request for an aid suspension as a sign of U.S. support, Lodge 
expressed his view that any suspension of aid should be timed to coincide with 
another coup attempt and should be used to facilitate it. He was troubled by 
the opinion expressed by both General Minh and Secretary Thuan privately 
within the previous two days that the war was going very badly and the VC 
were winning. In general, he felt that a patient "let them come to me" tactic 
was more likely to have results, unless a real coup possibility emerged, which he 
felt we should back. 


The second decision to come out of the September 17 NSC meeting was to 
adopt a suggestion of Secretary McNamara for another fact-finding mission, 
this time by himself and General Taylor, Chairman of the JCS. [Doc. 137] 

Lodge reacted immediately to the proposed McNamara-Taylor mission, 
pointing out to the President that such a visit would require a call on Diem that 
would be construed by the regime as a return to business as usual. Since he had 
been consciously pursuing a policy of official aloofness, he wondered whether 
such a high level visit was desirable. Furthermore, it coincided with the pro- 
posed National Assembly elections on September 27, and could not but be 
construed as an indication of the lack of importance we attached to them. But 
the President was insistent, and Lodge acquiesced, suggesting that the public 
announcement state that Lodge had requested the visit. [Doc. 138] After an 
exchange of alternative phraseology, it was agreed that the release would say 
that the President had decided to send the mission after consultation with 
Lodge. It was so announced on September 21. 

248 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/ Vol. II 

The President's instructions to McNamara described the purpose of the 
mission in the following terms: 

I am asking you to go because of my desire to have the best possible on- 
the-spot appraisal of the military and paramilitary effort to defeat the Viet 
Cong. . . . The events in South Vietnam since May have now raised 
serious questions both about the present prospects for success against the 
Viet Cong and still more about the future effectiveness of this effort un- 
less there can be important political improvement in the country. It is 
in this context that I now need your appraisal of the situation. If the 
prognosis in your judgment is not hopeful, I would like your views on what 
action must be taken by the South Vietnamese Government and what 
stops our Government should take to lead the Vietnamese to that action. 

... I will also expect you to examine with Ambassador Lodge ways 
and means of fashioning all forms of our assistance to South Vietnam so 
that it will support our foreign policy objectives more precisely. [Doc. 

The purpose, thus, was fourfold: (1) appraise the war effort; (2) assess the 
impact on that effort of recent political developments; (3) recommend a 
course of action for the GVN and for the U.S.; and (4) examine with Lodge 
ways of tailoring our aid to achieve our foreign policy objectives. In a statement 
to the press at Andrews Air Force Base just before leaving for Vietnam on 
September 23, Secretary McNamara said that the purpose of the trip was, ". . . 
to determine whether that military effort has been adversely affected by the un- 
rest of the past several weeks." 

Both Schlesinger and Hilsman, however, contend that Kennedy sent McNa- 
mara and Taylor to Vietnam to convince them of the negative effect on the 
war effort that the protracted political crisis was having, and of the necessity 
of applying sanctions to the Diem regime to bring about change. According to 
this argument, the President felt he could not afford a major policy rift in the 
Administration over applying sanctions, especially the opposition of the powerful 
JCS, and concluded that only McNamara, if convinced, could bring the mili- 
tary along. 

Whatever the exact purpose of the trip, the party left Washington on Sep- 
tember 23 and returned ten days later, on October 2, after an exhausting trip 
and a comprehensive review of the situation. 

The divergent views of the members of the U.S. mission about the relative 
progress of the war, and the effect on it of the political crisis, were exposed im- 
mediately in the opening session that McNamara and Taylor held in Saigon 
with the country team on September 25. General Harkins and the MACV staff 
generally presented a favorable picture of the war, emphasizing the progress 
of the strategic hamlet program, and the generally improved ARVN position, 
in spite of recent rises in VC initiated incidents and declines in ARVN opera- 
tions related to the political turmoil. McNamara and Taylor prodded the brief- 
ers with questions trying to get comparative indicators of the situation over the 
previous two years. McNamara in particular pressed for details about the 
Delta. Lodge's and Mecklin's reading of recent events, and their estimate of 
war progress, differed sharply from that of General Harkins. Lodge stressed 
the more political and intangible aspects of the conflict and cast doubt on the 
"hardness" of the statistical data from MACV. With the Mission's division 
of opinion exposed and the issues joined, McNamara left to tour the country. 

His subsequent itinerary took him throughout the country interviewing 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 249 

Americans and Vietnamese both at headquarters, and in the field. In Saigon, 
in the last few days of the visit, he was given extensive briefings by the civilian 
side of the Mission and, since he stayed with Lodge, had ample opportunity 
for discussions with the Ambassador. 

On September 29, McNamara, Taylor, Harkins, and Lodge called on Diem, 
after having previously decided against delivery of a stiff letter from Kennedy. 
After a two-hour monologue by Diem, McNamara was finally able to stress the 
U.S. concern that political unrest was undermining the war effort. He stressed 
the problem that r^r^g^sinns y/ prfa^g fnr Presi dent Kennedy because of, 
arouseB^pubirc opinion. But he did not ask for the removal of the Nhus, a mat- 
ter Washington Bad" left fo his and Lodge's discretion. All this seems to have had 
little impact on Diem, however. Diem had asked Taylor for his appraisal of the 
war, and with the approval of McNamara, a long letter from Taylor was de- 
livered to Diem on October 2. The letter pointedly outlined the major military 
problems in the Delta, warned of the danger to the war effort of the political 
crisis, and listed many of the specific steps needed to improve the military effort 
that subsequently appeared in the report to the President. The letter summed 
up with a terse, tough statement of the U.S. view: 

In closing, Mr. President, may I give you my most important over-all 
impression? Up to now, the battle against the Viet Cong has seemed end- 
less; no one has been willing to set a date for its successful conclusion. After 
talking to scores of officers, Vietnamese and American, I am convinced 
that the Viet Cong insurgency in the north and center can be reduced to 
little more than sporadic incidents by the end of 1964. The Delta will take 
longer but should be completed by the end of 1965. But for these predic- 
tions to be valid, certain conditions must be met. Your Government should 
be prepared to energize all agencies, military and civil, to a higher output 
of activity than up to now. Ineffective commanders and province officials 
must be replaced as soon as identified. Finally, there should be a restora- 
tion of domestic tranquility on the home front if political tensions are to 
be allayed and external criticism is to abate. Conditions are needed for the 
creation of an atmosphere conducive to an effective campaign directed 
at the objective, vital to both of us, of defeating the Viet Cong and of 
restoring peace to your community. 

On September 30, their last day in Vietnam, McNamara and Taylor, together 
with Lodge, met with Vice President Tho. Tho said that the U.S., after Tay- 
lors report in 1961, had responded to the Vietnam situation promptly and ef- 
ficiently, but that recently we had failed to use our strength and influence in- 
telligently to prevent the current political deterioration. But he had no methods 
to suggest. Later he sharply questioned the success of the Strategic Hamlet 
Program, and said that increased Viet Cong strength had to be attributed to 
widespread peasant disaffection with the government. These views, from the 
man most often mentioned in U.S. circles as an alternative to Diem, coming 
at the end of the visit as they did, must have had an important influence on 
McNamara's conclusions. Later that day the party left Vietnam to return 

During the briefings for McNamara, Lodge had raised again his doubts 
about the efficacy of aid suspension as a lever against Diem, but had also ex- 
pressed his concern that the foreign aid bill would be penalized in Congress 

250 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

for Diem's repressions. Lodge reiterated in his cables to Washington during 
the visit his belief that an aid suspension could boomerang and alienate the 
population as well as the regime. Aware, no doubt, that an aid suspension was 
a potential recommendation of the mission, Brent went on record against it, 
too. Both views were important because McNamara and Taylor had been 
specifically charged by the President with examining ways to make our aid 
serve our foreign policy goals, and their briefing papers included a program-by- 
program consideration of the impact of aid suspension prepared by AID-Wash- 

After a one-day stop in Honolulu to prepare their report, McNamara and 
Taylor arrived back in Washington on October 2 and promptly met with the 
President and the NSC. Their report concluded that the "military campaign 
has made great progress and continues to progress." But it warned that the 
serious political tensions in Saigon and the increasing unpopularity of Diem and 
Nhu could abet the then limited restiveness of some ARVN officers and erode 
the favorable military trends. They reported no evidence of a successful coup 
in the making, and felt that U.S. pressure would probably only further harden 
the regime's attitudes. Nevertheless, "unless such pressures are exerted, they 
(Diem-Nhu) are almost certain to continue past patterns of behavior." [Doc. 

The report's military recommendations were that General Harkins should 
review the war effort with Diem with a view toward its successful conclusion in 
I, II, and III Corps by the end of 1964 and in the Delta by the end of 1965. 
This would necessitate: (a) a shift in military emphasis and strength to the 
Delta; (b) an increase tempo of military activity throughout the country; (c) 
an emphasis on "clear and hold operations"; (d) a consolidation of the Strate- 
gic Hamlet Program with the emphasis on security; and (e) the fleshing out of 
combat units and better training and arms for the hamlet militia. It was further 
proposed that an announcement be made of the planned withdrawal of 1,000 
U.S. troops by the end of 1963 in connection with a program to trajri^Vietna- 
n aese to re pl^f Americ ans in all essential functions by 1 96 5. 

To bring political pressure on the Diem regime to end its repressive policies, 
the following measures were recommended: (a) a continued withholding of 
funds in the commodity import program, but without formal announcement; 
(b) suspension of approval of AID loans for the Saigon-Cholon Waterworks 
and the Saigon Electric Power Project; (c) suspension of support for Colonel 
Tung's forces unless they were transferred to the field and placed under JGS 
authority; (d) maintenance of purely "correct" relations between the Am- 
bassador and Diem (General Harkins' contract with the regime not to be 
suspended, however). In subsequent evaluations of the success of these sanc- 
tions, the report stated: 

. . . the situation must be closely watched to see what steps Diem is 
taking to reduce repressive practices and to improve the effectiveness of 
the military effort. We should set no fixed criteria, but recognize that we 
would have to decide in 2-4 months, whether to move to more drastic 
action or try to carry on with Diem even if he had not taken significant steps. 

Finally, the report recommended against our actively encouraging a coup, al- 
though it recommended seeking "urgently to identify and build contacts with 
an alternative leadership if and when it appears." 

The report is a curiously contradictory document. It was, no doubt, a com- 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 251 

promise between General Harkins' view of the war's progress as supported by 
Genera] Taylor, and Secretary McNamara's growing conviction of the gravity 
of the political crisis and its dire potential for the war efTort. Its recommenda- 
tions for aid suspensions and the announcement of U.S. troop withdrawals 
were obviously designed as measures, short of a withdrawal of U.S. support, 
that would create doubt within the Diem regime about U.S. intentions and 
incentives for policy changes. The fact that these sanctions would be seen by 
the generals as a signal of our willingness to accept alternative leadership — 
i.e., a coup — does "hot seem to have figured in the recommendation, however, 
because elsewhere the report specifically rules out U.S. encouragement of "a 
change of government." This is an important lapse in view of the generals' clear 
statement in August that they would regard an aid suspension as a coup signal. 

Nevertheless, the recommendations of the Mission met with swift approval 
at the NSC on October 2, and later that day Secretary McNamara made the 
Presidentially approved statement to the press that included the announcement 
of the 1,000 man troop withdrawal by the end of the year. The statement re- 
iterated the U.S. commitment to the struggle against insurgency and aggression 
in South Vietnam, noted the progress of the war, announced the troop with- 
drawal, and dissociated the U.S. from the GVN's repressive policies. It avoided, 
however, any reference to economic aid suspensions or other sanctions against 
the regime, thereby giving Diem a chance to come around without a public loss 
of face. 

On October 5, the President approved the specific military recommenda- 
tions of the McNamara-Taylor report, "but directed that no formal announce- 
ment be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military 
personnel by the end of 1963." [Doc. 146] The details of how the new policy 
would be applied were spelled out in a long cable to Lodge following this meet- 
ing. The purpose of the new course of action was described at the beginning of 
the message: 

Actions are designed to indicate to Diem Government our displeasure 
at its political policies and activities and to create significant uncertainty 
in that government and in key Vietnamese groups as to future intensions of 
United States. At same time, actions are designed to have at most slight 
impact on military or counterinsurgency efTort against Viet Cong, at least 
in short term. 

The recommendations on negotiations are concerned with what U.S. is 
after, i.e., GVN action to increase effectiveness of its military efTort; to 
ensure popular support to win war; and to eliminate strains on U.S. Gov- 
ernment and public confidence. The negotiating posture is designed not to 
lay down specific hard and fast demands or to set a deadline, but to produce 
movement in Vietnamese Government along these lines. In this way we 
can test and probe effectiveness of any actions the GVN actually takes 
and, at the same time, maintain sufficient flexibility to permit U.S. to re- 
sume full support of Diem regime at any time U.S. Government deems 
it appropriate. 

The cable goes on to acknowledge that the proposed sanctions can only be 
applied for 2-4 months before they begin to adversely affect the military efTort, 
and therefore when that begins to happen recognizes that, ". . . further major 
decisions will be required." 

The specific actions to be taken included: (1) suspension of the commodity 

252 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

import program without public announcement; (2) selective suspension of PL 
480, on an item-by-item, sometimes monthly, basis, after referral to Washington 
for review; (3) suspension of the loans for the Saigon-Cholon Waterworks and 
the Saigon Electric Power Project; (4) notification to the GVN that financial 
support of Colonel Tung's forces would be contingent on their commitment to 
field operations under JGS control, again without public announcement. Lodge 
was instructed to maintain his policy of "cool correctness in order to make 
Diem come to you," but to be prepared to re-establish contact later if it did not 
work. Specifically he was to seek improvements in the GVN military effort, as 
outlined in the McNamara-Taylor report; in the GVN's internal policies that 
would restore popular confidence; and in the GVN's international (particu- 
larly American) public image and its attitudes and actions toward the U.S. 
Once again, however, the discussion of this new program of pressures did not 
allude to their impact on the military nor how a coup initiative by the generals, 
stemming from such measures, should be dealt with. 

Thus, the Kennedy Administration, after a long month of searching delibera- 
tions had made a far-reaching decision on American policy toward South Viet- 
nam. It had chosen to take the difficult and risky path of positive pressures 
against an ally to obtain from him compliance with our policies. To our good 
fortune, that policy was to be implemented by an Ambassador who not only 
supported it, but was uniquely equipped by background and temperament to 
make it succeed. 



Through the month of September the GVN resorted to police state tactics 
ever more frequently. The regime, now more than ever under Nhu's dominance, 
lifted martial law September 16, but repressions against the Buddhist clergy 
continued unabated. Students, down to the grade school level, were arrested 
and detained for the most minor of protests. Civil servants came under pressure 
to avoid contact with Americans, and to demonstrate their loyalty to the ruling 
family. Regime-inspired rumors of impending mob attacks on U.S. facilities, 
and assassination lists of prominent Americans circulated regularly. Then, on 
October 5, at noon in the central market place, another Buddhist monk burned 
himself to death, the first self-immolation since the pagoda raids. 

In this tense atmosphere, elections for the National Assembly were held on 
September 27 after a pro forma one-week campaign. Predictably, GVN can- 
didates won overwhelming victories. The new assembly convened on October 7 
to hear President Diem's state of the union message. Diem spoke mainly of 
South Vietnam's past and present progress, playing down the internal political 
crisis, and made only scant reference to U.S. assistance. As might have been 
expected, he threw the blame for the Buddhist crisis on the Communists, foreign 
adventurers, and the Western press. 

On the same day, Mme. Nhu arrived in the U.S. after a month in Europe 
to begin a three-week speaking tour. She immediately launched into shrill 
denunciations of the Buddhists and of U.S. policy that progressively alienated 
. U.S. public opinion. She was followed around the country by her father, the 
former Ambassador to the United States, however, who acted as a one-man 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 253 

truth squad revealing the inaccuracies and distortions of her statements. The 
Administration's dignified and temperate reaction further discredited her at- 
tacks. On October 8, the UN General Assembly voted to send a fact-finding 
team to South Vietnam to investigate the changes of repressions against Bud- 


Lodge's immediate reaction to the new policy approach was enthusiastic, 
"an excellent instruction outlining a course of action which should yield con- 
structive results." With the exception of the aid suspension, his views, in es- 
sence, had prevailed with both McNamara and the President, the standard 
public kudos to military progress notwithstanding. His plan was to allow the 
suspension of the commodity import program, the largest and most important 
of the economic sanctions, to become evident without making any mention of 
it, and, by maintaining his aloofness from official contact, force the regime 
to come to him. On October 7, however, Lodge expressed some doubts about 
the real value of the political concessions itemized in State's instructions if our 
real goal was removal of Nhu, an objective of questionable feasibility under the 
current circumstances. In view of Nhu's increasing hostility to the U.S. presence 
and influence, Lodge felt a request from the regime for a U.S. withdrawal was 
a distinct possibility. 

That same day, the regime's reaction to the aid cut-off hit the streets with 
banner headlines in its mouthpiece, the Times of Vietnam: "USOM Freezes 
Economic Aid Program." The article accused the U.S. of subverting the war 
effort, and asserted that the cut-off had been decided in mid-September. Such 
fantastic pressure for petty reforms would jeopardize the entire revolutionary 
program of the government, it concluded. Lodge made no comment on the 

In mid-October, Lodge was requested to provide Washington with a weekly 
evaluation of the effects, both positive and negative, of the new policy. Lodge's 
October 16 reply summarized the situation as follows: "So far we appear to be 
getting virtually no effect from our actions under DEPTEL 534, but we would 
not have expected effects this early." Other reports indicated that the regime 
was preparing to take a number of belt-tightening measures, including reduc- 
tions in civil service salaries; that Chinese businessmen and bankers had begun 
to get jittery about currency stability; and that the government was planning 
to draw down its foreign exchange reserves to sustain import levels in the face 
of the U.S. cut-off of CIP funds. A CIA memorandum concluded that the GVN 
reaction to the new U.S. policy, particularly the violent anti-U.S. campaign in 
the Times of Vietnam and the surveillance and harassment of Americans and 
their employees, indicated that Diem and Nhu were preparing for a long fight 
and were unmoved by the new policy. 

Under Lodge's instructions, General Stillwell (MACV — J-3) met with Secre- 
tary Thuan on October 17 and informed him of the impending cut-off of funds 
for the Special Forces, both MAP and CIA, unless the three CIA-funded com- 
panies under Colonel Tung's command were placed under JGS control and 
transferred to the field. Thuan said he would take the matter up with Diem im- 
mediately. Harkins informed Diem directly of this action in a letter on October 
18. General Don and Colonel Tung were also personally advised of the action, 
but again no public announcement was made. On October 26 it was learned 

254 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

that Tung and JGS were working on plans to transfer his Special Forces to the 
Central Highlands. By then, however, coup plans were well advanced and the 
significance of this transfer must be understood therein. 

Militarily, in October while the GVN had taken some minor steps in line 
with the McNamara-Taylor recommendations (such as agreeing to realign 
III and IV Corps boundaries to give added emphasis to the Delta war), the 
combat situation continued to worsen. The tempo of VC attacks, particularly 
in the Delta, increased; the weapons-loss ratio and casualty ratios deteri- 
orated; and GVN "missing in action" increased. In Washington, further doubt 
was cast on the optimism of previous reports by a controversial State Depart- 
ment research study of October 22. The memorandum took issue with encour- 
aging conclusions about the progress of the military campaign derived from 
statistical trends, pointing out important unfavorable trends revealed by the 
same statistical data. In Saigon, MACV continued unsuccessfully to press Diem 
to take further steps to strengthen the war effort. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Mission had been feeling the impact of the new policy 
in internal strains of its own. Hilsman reports that Lodge decided early in 
October that the recall of John Richardson, the CIA chief in Saigon, would 
be a useful additional pressure against Nhu because they had been closely iden- 
tified during Nolting's ambassadorship, and because Richardson was known to 
favor a more conciliatory approach to the regime. While there are no cables in 
the available files to confirm it, Hilsman maintains that Lodge sent a private 
message to the President and CIA Director McCone requesting Richardson's 
transfer. The President agreed, McCone acquiesced, and Richardson was re- 
turned to Washington on October 5. Whatever other motives may have been 
involved, Richardson had, in fact, been the specific object of an attack in the 
U.S. press on October 2 that had accused him of insubordination and had com- 
promised his identity. It is not surprising under such circumstances that he 
should have been transferred. Whatever the case, the press interpreted his re- 
call as a slap at the regime, as Hilsman suggests Lodge wanted. 

This was only an incident in the continuing series of stories by U.S. cor- 
respondents on divisions within the mission. Lodge's relations with the press, 
however, remained excellent throughout his tour. He consciously cultivated 
the U.S. press corps with private luncheons, "backgrounders," and occasional 
leaks, and it paid off for him personally. But the press sharply attacked those 
in the mission, like Richardson and Harkins, with whom they disagreed about 
U.S. policy. Washington registered its concern that these stories, whatever their 
origin, were damaging to the official posture of unity the U.S. Government was 
trying to maintain in the implementation of a difficult policy toward South Viet- 
nam. But the stories continued, even after the coup. 

In his weekly evaluation of the impact of the new U.S. policy on October 23, 
Lodge was not encouraged by the results to date. "Diem/Nhu give every ap- 
pearance of sitting tight and reacting to U.S. pressure with counter pressure and 
implying through public statements that they can go it alone." Nevertheless, 
there were several straws in the wind. Secretary Thuan had reported that Diem 
was worried and that he had instructed Thuan to ask Lodge if Washington had 
reached any decisions on commercial imports. Lodge also felt that the regime 
was being more careful about repressive actions. Furthermore, experienced ob- 
servers felt the U.S. policy was creating favorable conditions for a coup, al- 
though Lodge did not see anyone seriously considering it. The day after this 
message was sent, Lodge and his wife were invited by Diem to spend the next 
Sunday (the day after the National Day celebration) with him at his villa in 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 255 

Dalat, after visiting an agricultural station and a strategic hamlet. Lodge 
promptly accepted. Diem had made the first move. 

Washington instructed Lodge to use the occasion of the trip with Diem to 
test for movement by the GVN on any of the U.S. demands. Lodge was to take 
advantage of any subject of interest that Diem brought up to determine both 
the willingness of the government to make concessions and the effect of our 
selective sanctions. If Diem did not provide such conversational opportunities, 
Lodge was to assume the initiative. In particular, he was to inquire about changes 
in the military campaign that had been recommended by the McNamara-Tay- 
lor mission and subsequently pressed by General Harkins; he was to suggest that 
Diem be cooperative to the UN investigatory team that had arrived in the 
country on October 24, and allow them full access to information and people; 
and he was to inquire whether Diem did not think it time to end the bitter anti- 
American campaign of the Times of Vietnam and the Nhus. 

Lodge's Sunday with Diem on October 27, the day after the National Day 
celebration, was frustrating in almost all respects. Diem did bring up several 
issues of interest, but gave no indication that he had changed his position or his 
attitude about the Buddhists or the U.S. He did inquire about the suspension of 
the commercial import program to which Lodge inquired in reply about the 
release of Buddhists and students from jail, the reopening of the schools, and 
the elimination of anti-Buddhist discrimination. Diem offered excuses and com- 
plaints as usual. Taking the initiative, Lodge complained to Diem of the public 
opinion pressure that his policies were placing the President under in the U.S. 
He complained about the physical attacks on U.S. newsmen and about Mme 
Nhu's inflammatory remarks in the U.S. as examples of the kind of thing Diem 
could prevent that would enhance his public image in the U.S. and the world. 
Lodge describes the end of the conversation in this manner: 

When it was evident that the conversation was practically over, I said: 
"Mr. President, every single specific suggestion which I have made, you 
have rejected. Isn't there some one thing you may think of that is within 
your capabilities to do and that would favorably impress U.S. opinion?" 
As on other previous occasions when I asked him similar questions, he gave 
me a blank look and changed the subject. 

While Lodge saw no movement on the basis of the conversation, he nonethe- 
less suggested that consideration be given in Washington to what we would 
consider adequate response on Diem's part for a resumption of the commercial 
import program. The following day, after Lodge had related the disappointing 
results of the conversation to Secretary Thuan over luncheon, the latter ob- 
served that the U.S. really wasn't asking much and that perhaps the conversa- 
tion with Diem had been a beginning. In retrospect, the comment is ironic, for 
with the coup only five days away, the October 27 conversation was in reality 
a pathetic ending not a hopeful beginning. 

At one level, attention now turned to Lodge's scheduled trip to Washington 
October 31. The exact purpose of the trip remains a mystery. On October 30, 
he sent a cable to Washington with some suggestions of steps by the GVN that 
Washington might consider adequate for resuming the commercial import 
program under various conditions, steps which he hoped to discuss when he 
arrived. However, earlier in October, Lodge had sent a private note to Mc- 
George Bundy, asking that the President make him available for a trip to Viet- 

256 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/ Vol. II 

nam to discuss with Lodge a matter which Lodge did not feel free to enter into 
through any electronic communication channel. The following cryptic refer- 
ence suggests that whatever the mysterious subject lodge had in mind, it was the 
purpose for the planned trip to Washington at the end of October: 

Regarding my wire, I appreciate your willingness to send Bundy. Would 
not have brought this up if I did not have a proposal which I think con- 
tains new ideas and which might just change the situation here for the 
better. It cannot be properly handled by telegram or letter and requires a 
chance for me to have a dialogue with Rusk and/or Harriman and/or 
Bundy. I wired Bundy because I cannot leave here immediately, but I could 
come for one working day to Washington after Vietnamese National Day 
on October 26 and dedication of Vietnamese Atomic Energy Plant on 
October 28, returning here immediately thereafter, and would be glad to 
do it. 

In order to shorten Lodge's absence from Saigon and to add flexibility to his 
departure timing, the President dispatched a military aircraft to Saigon and left 
it at his disposal. But as the October 31 date arrived, it coincided with the mo- 
mentary anticipation of a move by the generals. Lodge, no doubt preferred to 
remain in control of U.S. actions during a coup rather than see Harkins take 
over, as Washington's instructions for his absence stipulated, and so, he post- 
poned his own departure. 


While Diem's reaction to the tough new American policy was hostile, the 
senior South Vietnamese generals, predictably, interpreted the new policy as a 
green light for a coup. Plotting was reactivated almost immediately, if indeed it 
had ever been completely dormant. 

On October 2, the day the McNamara-Taylor mission reported to the Pres- 
ident, General Don "accidentally" encountered Lt Colonel Conein, the CIA 
contact man in the August plot, at Tan Son Nhut airport and asked him to 
meet him that night in Nha Trang. Truehart approved the contact, instructing 
Conein to neither encourage nor discourage a coup but only to get information. 
At the meeting, General Don said that General Minh wanted to meet with Con- 
ein at 8:00 a.m. on October 5 at JGS headquarters at which time Minh would 
be able to go into the details of the generals' plan. Don emphatically stated 
that there was a plan, and that essential to it was the conversion of General 
Dinh, III Corps commander, to the cause. 

So, with Lodge's approval, Conein met General Minh on October 5. Getting 
straight to the point, "General Minh stated that he must know American Gov- 
ernment's position with respect to a change in the Government of Vietnam 
within the very near future." The government's loss of popular support was 
endangering the whole war effort, which was deteriorating rapidly. He did not 
except any U.S. support, but needed assurances the U.S. would not thwart the 
attempt. Also involved, he said, were Generals Don, Khiem and Kim. Of three 
possible and not mutually exclusive plans mentioned by Minh, two involved 
military action against loyal units in Saigon, and one was an assassination plot 
against brothers Nhu and Can, but not Diem. Conein remained noncommittal 
about both U.S. support and the various plans. Minh then expressed doubt 
about General Khiem whom he suspected of having played a double role in 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 257 

August, but indicated that the generals would have to act soon to forestall 
abortive attempts by lower echelon officers. Minh hoped to meet with Conein 
in the near future to go over the detailed plan of operations. Conein was again 
noncommittal and Minh said he understood. 

Lodge, with Harkins' concurrence, recommended that when Minh, about 
whom he was now dubious after his August experience, approached Conein 
again, he be told: (1) that the U.S. would not thwart his plans; (2) that we 
wQujd be willing to review his pla ns, exce pt those for assassinations; and (3) 
"that U.S. aid will be continued to Vietnam under government which"~gives 
promise of gaining support of people and winning the war against the Com- 
munists." In pressing Minh for details of the planned composition of a successor 
regime, Lodge felt we should stress the need for a "good proportion of well 
qualified civilian leaders in key positions." 

A message emanating from an NSC meeting was sent to Lodge on the 
same day and appears to have been dispatched before the arrival of the CAS 
report on the Conein-Minh meeting and Lodge's comment. In it the President 
specifically instructed Lodge to avoid encouraging a coup. The message stated: 

. . . President today approved recommendation that no initiative should 
now be taken to give any active covert encouragement to a coup. There 
should, however, be urgent covert effort with closest security under broad 
guidance of Ambassador to identify and build contacts with possible al- 
ternative leadership as and when it appears. Essential that this effort be 
totally secure and fully deniable and separated entirely from normal 
political analysis and reporting and other activities of country team. We 
repeat that this effort is not repeat not to be aimed at active promotion of 
coup but only at surveillance and readiness. In order to provide plausibil- 
ity to denial suggest you and no one else in Embassy issue these instruction 
orally to Acting Station Chief and hold him responsible to you alone for 
making appropriate contacts and reporting to you allone. [Doc. 143] 

Responding the next day, October 6, to the report of the Conein-Minh meeting, 
Washington referred to the preceding day's cable, but, prompted by Lodge's 
suggestion, added: 

While we do not wish to stimulate coup, we also do not wish to leave 
impression that U.S. would thwart a change of government or deny eco- 
nomic and military assistance to a new regime if it appeared capable of 
increasing effectiveness of military effort, ensuring popular support to 
win war and improving working relations with U.S. We would like to be 
informed on what is being contemplated but we should avoid being drawn 
into reviewing or advising on operational plans or any other act which 
might tend to identify U.S. too closely with change in government. 
[Doc. 1451 

Washington was, further, greatly concerned about the security and deniability 
of any further contacts and suggested to Lodge that someone could be brought 
in from outside Vietnam for follow-up contacts if he thought it necessary. 
Lodge apparently did not. 

An important apparent lacuna in the available message traffic occurs at this 
point. By Shaplen's account, a CAS officer met with Minh on October 10 and 

258 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

conveyed the substance of the U.S. position. Whether or not the date is accurate, 
it is probable that some such contact took place by mid-October. On October 
20 a Colonel Khuong at JGS contacted an American counterpart and reported 
a coup plot involving Minh, Khiem, Kim, and a fourth unidentified general, 
plus a number of colonels. He was seeking assurances of U.S. support following 
a coup. 

There were no further reported contacts with the generals until October 23 
when Conein again met with Don at the latter's initiative. In a state of agitation, 
Don stated that the coup had been scheduled to take advantage of the October 
26 National Holiday, but that on October 22 Harkins had called on him to re- 
port the Khuong contact and to discourage a coup. Don further indicated that 
the palace had learned of Khuong's overtures, implying that Harkins was re- 
sponsible, and had taken action to ensure that the vital 5th and 7th Divisions 
would be away from Saigon. Don demanded to know what the U.S. attitude 
was toward a coup. Conein reiterated the Washington guidance. Apparently 
relieved, Don asked Conein to assure Lodge that Khuong was not a member of 
the coup committee and would be punished. He indicated that the generals had 
avoided contacting Lodge directly at a party on October 18 because of the 
presence of members of Harkins' staff. Conein then asked for proof of the ex- 
istence of the coup group and its plan. Don said that if they could meet the 
following day, he would give Conein, EYES ONLY for Lodge, the political 
organization plan. 

In a subsequent conversation with Harkins on the matter, Lodge reported 
that Harkins confirmed his demarche to Don on October 22, and after they 
had reviewed CAP 74228, said he had misunderstood the policy and hoped 
he had not upset any delicate arrangements. Harkins added that he would in- 
form Don that his previous statements did not reflect U.S. Government policy. 

By Harkins' account, he had not violated Washington's guidance in his con- 
versation with Don. He was merely trying to discourage Vietnamese officers 
from approaching U.S. counterparts about coup plots which only detracted 
from the war effort. Furthermore, Don had at no time mentioned coup plan- 
ning to him. He concluded by commenting about the renewed plotting by the 
generals that: 

Though I am not trying to thwart a change in government, I think we 
should take a good hard look at the group's proposals to see if we think it 
would be capable of increasing the effectiveness of the military effort. 
There are so many coup groups making noises that unless elements of all 
are included I'm afraid there will be a continuous effort to upset whoever 
gains control for sometime out and this to me will interfere with the war 

This incident once again highlighted the differing outlooks of the Ambassador 
and MACV and underscored the lack of close coordination between them. 
Unfortunately, it did not lead to any improvement in the situation. The close 
identification of Harkins with Diem made the Vietnamese generals mistrust 
him. Lodge, responsive to their great sensitivity about security, tended to re- 
strict information about the contacts and coup plans to himself. 

In response to this contact by Don, Washington reflected mainly concern 
that he might be acting as an agent of the palace to lead us down the garden 
path. As he had indicated, Don contacted Conein on the morning of the 24th, 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 259 

but not with the promised plans. He reported that the previous evening Har- 
kins had spoken to him, correcting his earlier statements about the nondesira- 
bility of a change of government. Don further said he had a scheduled meet- 
ing with Lodge that evening (which Lodge denied) and that plans were now 
far advanced for a coup sometime before November 2. He asked Conein to 
meet him later that afternoon to discuss the details of the plan. In a separate 
cable disputing some of Lodges interpretative description of his statement to 
Don, Harkins stated that he had repulsed Don's suggestion that they meet 
again to discuss the coup plans. "I told Don that I would not discuss coups that 
were not my business though I had heard rumors of many. Taylor replied 
immediately, stating, "View here is that your actions in disengaging from the 
coup discussion were correct and that you should continue to avoid any involve- 

At Conein's meeting with Don on the evening of the 24th, the latter indicated 
he had misunderstood General Harkins and had not seen Lodge. He said that 
the coup committee had refused to release any plans because of its anxiety about 
breaches of security. He did promise to turn over to Conein for Lodge's review 
detailed plans of the operation and the proposed successor government two 
days before the coup, which he reiterated would take place before November 2. 

At this juncture, the nature of the dialogue between Lodge and the White 
House began to change. On October 25, Lodge sent McGeorge Bundy a 
long cable taking exception to Harkins' reservations about a coup and arguing 
for a policy of "not thwarting." Na^uccessor government could bungle t he war ^ 
as badly as Diem had, he argued, and, furthermore, for us to prevent a change 
of government would be "assuming an undue responsibility for keeping the 
incumbents in office." In his reply, Bundy expressed the White House anxiety 
about reaping the blame for an unsuccessful coup. j 

We are particularly concerned about hazard that an unsuccessful coup, 
however carefully we avoid direct engagement, will be laid at our door by 
public opinion almost everywhere. Therefore, while sharing your view that 
we should not be in position of thwarting coup, we-^ould like to have op- 
tion of judging and warning on any plan with poor prospects of success. 
We recognize that this is a large order, but President wants you to know 
of our concern. [Doc. 153] 

The discussion of these issues dominated the cable traffic between Lodge and 
the White House up to the day of the coup, with Washington concerned about 
detailed plans and prospects for success and Lodge stressing the irrevocability 
of our involvement. 

There were no further contacts with the coup group until the day after the 
fruitless Lodge-Diem conversations. That Monday, October 28, Lodge and 
Diem were leaving Saigon for Dalat to dedicate the Vie tnamese Atomic En- 
ergyjiaat. At the airport before their departure, GeheraMDon daringly took 
Eoage aside and asked if Conein was authorized to speak for him. Lodge assured 
Don that he was. Don said that the coup must be thoroughly Vietnamese and 
that the U.S. must not interfere. Lodge agreed, adding that the U.S. wanted no 
satellites but would not thwart a coup. When Lodge asked about the timing of 
the coup, Don replied that the generals were not yet ready. 

Later that evening Conein met Don by prearrangement at the latter's ini- 
tiative. When Conein called Don's attention to Lodge's scheduled trip to Wash- 
ington on October 31, indicating that it was important for him to review the 

260 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

coup plans before his departure, Don replied that the plans might not be avail- 
able until four hours in advance, but urged that the Ambassador not change 
his plans as this might be a tip-off. Don said that nothing would happen in the 
next 48 hours, but the implication was that the coup would pre-empt Lodge's 
departure. When pressed for details of the planning, Don indicated that within 
the committee, Minh had charge of the military plans for the operation, Kim 
was doing the political planning, and he, Don, was the liaison with the Amer- 
icans. They had surrounded General Dinh with coup supporters and he would 
be neutralized. Generals Tri and Khanh were both involved in the planning. 
General Khiem was being circumspect because he was under palace suspicion. 
Minor details of the plan and a list of units supporting the coup were also dis- 

Simultaneous separate contacts had confirmed that several important op- 
position civilians were in contact with the generals, including Phan Huy Quat, 
Bui Diem, and Tran Trung Dung, and that they expected to play a role in the 
post-coup government, which reportedly would be headed by Vice President 
Tho. In a cable dispatched that same day summarizing the situation, Lodge ex- 
pressed some concern at the possibility of a premature coup by junior officers, 
but generally expressed confidence in the generals while regretting their re- 
luctance for security reasons to provide details of their plans. He concluded in 
these words : 

In summary, it would appear that a coup attempt by the Generals' group 
is imminent; that whether this coup fails or succeeds, the USG must be 
prepared to accept the fact that we will be blamed, however unjustifiably; 
and finally, that no positive action by the USG can prevent a coup attempt 
short of informing Diem and Nhu with all the opprobrium that such an 
action would entail. Note too Don's statement we will only have four 
hours notice. This rules out my checking with you between time I learn of 
coup and time that it starts. It means US will not be able significantly to 
influence course of events. 

Lodge's view was clear. We were committed and it was too late for second 
thoughts. Moreover, when the balloon went up he did not expect to have time 
to consult Washington. He expected, and probably preferred, to guide events 

In view of the deteriorating situation, instructions were given to Admiral 
Felt, CINCPAC, to have a task force stand off the Vietnamese coast for the 
possible evacuation of American dependents and civilians if events required. 
This was a re-enactment of a similar alert during the abortive August coup. 

In Washington, McNamara and the JCS had become concerned about the 
differing views of Lodge and Harkins as to the correct U.S. course of action. 
More importantly, they were alarmed at the apparent breakdown of communi- 
cation and coordination between the Ambassador and MACV. The cable traffic 
tended "to form a picture of a relationship which lacks the depth and conti- 
nuity required by the complex circumstances in Saigon." Harkins' suggestions 
for improving their rapport were invited. After the NSC meeting on October 
29, the White House was also concerned and instructed Lodge to show Harkins 
the relevant cables and be sure he was fully aware of the coup arrangements, 
since during Lodge's absence in Washington Harkins would have overall re- 
sponsibility for the U.S. [Doc. 150] 

These two cables triggered a flurry of strong opposing reactions from Lodge 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 261 

and Harkins. Harkins, belatedly apprised of the recent Conein-Don contacts 
and of Lodge's evaluations and recommendations, took bitter exception to the 
Ambassador's conclusions in three separate cables on October 30. He particu- 
larly resented Lodge's independent, gloomy assessments of how the war was 
going, which were at direct odds with his own views, views which he had pro- 
vided Lodge for inclusion in his weekly reports to Washington. [Doc. 151] 
As to U.S. policy toward a coup, he was irate at having been excluded by 
Lodge from information and consultation about the continuing contacts with 
the generals. [Doc. 1521 The heart of the issue, however, was a disagreement 
about what was, in fact, U.S. policy toward a coup as defined by the Washing- 
ton guidance cables. Harkins outlined the disagreement in a separate October 
30 cable to Taylor: 

There is a basic difference apparently between the Ambassador's think- 
ing and mine on the interpretation of the guidance contained in CAP 63560 
dated 6 October (see Appendix) and the additional thoughts, I repeat, 
thoughts expressed in CAS Washington 74228 dated 9 October (Appen- 
dix). I interpret CAP 63560 as our basic guidance and that CAS 74228 
being additional thoughts did not change the basic guidance in that no 
initiative should now be taken to give any active covert encouragement to 
a coup. The Ambassador feels that 74228 does change 63560 and that a 
change of government is desired and feels as stated in CAS Saigon 1964 
(Appendix) that the only way to bring about such a change is by a coup. 

I'm not opposed to a change in government, no indeed, but I'm inclined 
to feel that at this time the change should be in methods of governing 
rather than complete change of personnel. I have seen no batting order 
proposed by any of the coup groups. I think we should take a hard look 
at any proposed list before we make any decisions. In my contacts here I 
have seen no one with the strength of character of Diem, at least in fighting 
communists. Certainly there are no Generals qualified to take over in my 

I am not a Diem man per se. I certainly see the faults in his character. 
I am here to back 14 million SVN people in their leader at this time. 

* * * 

I would suggest we not try to change horses too quickly. That we con- 
tinue to take persuasive actions that will make the horses change their 
course and methods of action. That we win the military effort as quickly 
as possible, then let them make any and all the changes they want. 

After all, rightly or wrongly, we have backed Diem for eight long hard 
years. To me it seems incongruous now to get him down, kick him around, 
and get rid of him. The US has been his mother superior and father con- 
fessor since he's been in office and he has leaned on us heavily. [Docs. 
151 & 152] 

The first Washington message to Lodge on October 30 revealed that White 
House anxiety about the possible failure of a coup attempt, already evident 
on October 25 in CAP 63590 (see Appendix), had increased. The CIA's evalua- 
tion of the balance of forces cast doubt on whether the coup group could pull 
off a decisive action. With these concerns in mind, Washington could not ac- 
cept Lodge's judgment "that no positive action by the USG can prevent a 
coup attempt . . ." The White House view was that: 

262 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

. . . our attitude to coup group can still have decisive effects on its de- 
cisions. We believe that what we say to coup group can produce delay of 
coup and that betrayal of coup plans to Diem is not repeat not our only 
way of stopping coup. 

In a long reply (in which Harkins did not concur), Lodge was at pains to point 
out his powerlessness to prevent what was fundamentally a Vietnamese affair, 
short of revealing it to the palace. 

We must, of course, get best possible estimate of chance of coup's suc- 
cess and this estimate must color our thinking, but do not think we have 
the power to delay or discourage a coup. Don has made it clear many 
times that this is a Vietnamese affair. It is theoretically possible for us to 
turn over the information which has been given to us in confidence to 
Diem and this would undoubtedly stop the coup and would make traitors 
out of us. For practical purposes therefore I would say that we have very 
little influence on what is essentially a Vietnamese affair. In addition, this 
would place the heads of the Generals, their civilian supporters, and lower 
military officers on the spot, thereby sacrificing a significant portion of the 
civilian and military leadership needed to carry the war against the VC 
to its successful conclusion. After our efforts not to discourage a coup and 
this change of heart, we would foreclose any possibility of change of the 
GVN for the better. 

* * * 

As regards your paragraph 10 (question of determination and force of 
character of coup leaders), I do not know what more proof can be offered 
than the fact these men are obviously prepared to risk their lives and that 
they want nothing for themselves. If I am any judge of human nature, 
Don's face expressed sincerity and determination on the morning that I 
spoke to him. Heartily agree that a miscalculation could jeopardize posi- 
tion in Southeast Asia. We also run tremendous risks by doing nothing. 
[Doc. 154] 

Whether Lodge seriously believed this or merely used it as an argumentative 
excuse for not entertaining the possibility of intervention to delay or stop an 
unviable attempt is not clear. His defense of the plotters and his support for 
their goal in this telegraphic dialogue with Washington, however, clearly show 
his emotional bias in favor of a coup. Elsewhere in the cable Lodge objected 
to the designation of Harkins as the Chief of Mission in the event of a coup 
during his absence. 

The tone and content of these parallel messages from Harkins and Lodge 
only heightened White House anxiety and, no doubt, raised concern about 
the objectivity of these two principal U.S. observers of the critical Vietnamese 
situation. In an effort to clear the air, explicitly redefine and restate the policy 
guidance, and clarify the assignment of roles and responsibilities within the 
Mission, the White House sent still another cable to Saigon later on October 
30. Taking pointed issue with Lodge's view, the message stated: 

We do not accept as a basis for US policy that we have no power to 
delay or discourage a coup. In your paragraph 12 you say that if you were 
convinced that the coup was going to fail you would of course do every- 

77*<? Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 263 

thing you coulcLto persuade coup leaders to stop or delay any operation 
which, in your best judgement, does not clearly give high prospect of su c- 
cess. We have never considerecT any betrayal of generals to Diem, and 
our 79109 explicitly rejected that course. We recognize the danger of ap- 
pearing hostile to generals, but we believe that our own position should be 
on as firm ground as possible, hence we cannot limit ourselves to proposi- 
tion implied in your message that only conviction of certain failure justi- 
fies intervention. We believe that your standard for intervention should 
be that stated above. 

Therefore, if you should conclude that there is not clearly a high pros- 
pect of success, you should communicate this doubt to generals in a way 
calculated to persuade them to desist at least until chances are better. In 
such a communication you should use the weight of US best advice and 
explicitly reject any implication that we oppose the effort of the generals 
because of preference for present regime. We recognize need to bear in 
mind generals' interpretation of US role in 1960 coup attempt and your 
agent should maintain clear distinction between strong and honest ad- 
vice given as a friend and any opposition to their objectives. [Doc. 155] 

Lodge was also urgently requested to obtain more detailed information about 
the composition of the forces the coup leaders expected to have at their dis- 
posal so that we could better assess their prospects. 

With regard to Lodge's absence, the instructions placed Truehart in charge 
unless a coup occurred, in which case Harkins would be Chief of Mission. The 
desirability of having Lodge on the scene in the event of a coup, however, was 
stressed and he was encouraged to delay his departure if he thought the coup 
was imminent. The following four-point standing instructions for U.S. posture 
in the event of a coup were also given: 

a. US authorities will reject appeals for direct intervention from ei- 
ther side, and US-controlled aircraft and other resources will not be com- 
mitted between the battle lines or in support of either side, without 
authorization from Washington. 

b. In event of indecisive contest, US authorities may in their discre- 
tion agree to perform any acts agreeable to both sides, such as removal of 
key personalities or relay of information. In such actions, however, US 
authorities will strenuously avoid appearance of pressure on either side. 
It is not in the interest of USG to be or appear to be either instrument 
of existing government or instrument of coup. 

c. In the event of imminent or actual failure of coup, US authorities 
may afford asylum in their discretion to those to whom there is any ex- 
press or implied obligation of this sort. We believe, however, that in 
such a case it would be in our interest and probably in interest of those 
seeking asylum that they seek protection of other Embassies in addition to 
our own. This point should be made strongly if need arises. 

} d. But once a coup under responsible leadership has begun, and within 
these restrictions, it is in the interest of the US government that it should 

With respect to instruction d., however, no specific actions to support or guar- 
antee the success of a coup were authorized. This message was the last guidance 
Lodge received from Washington before the coup began. 

264 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/ Vol. II 


The atmosphere of Byzantine intrigue in Saigon in the fall of 1963 made it 
virtually impossible to keep track of all the plots against the regime. In one of 
his last messages to Washington before the coup, Lodge identified ten individual 
dissident groups in addition to the generals' group. These various plots were 
highly fluid in composition and quixotic in character, quickly appearing, disap- 
pearing and/or merging with other groups. There were, however, two groups 
that came into existence in the summer and retained their identity with some 
mutation until near the end. The first, chronologically, was variously identified 
as the Tuyen or Thao group after its successive leaders. It was conceived some- 
time in June by Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen, the Director of Political Studies (na- 
tional intelligence) under Diem, and involved elements of the Ministries of 
Civic Action and Information and certain elements of the Army. When Dr. 
Tuyen was sent out of the country in September, the group was more or less 
merged with a separate group of middle level officers headed by Lt. Colonel 
Phamh Goc Thao. Several dates were established by this group for a coup during 
the summer and fall, but each time critical military units were temporarily trans- 
ferred by either the palace or the JGS, under General Don, each of whom was 
somewhat aware of the group's plans and was interested in frustrating them. 
In the end, it concerted efforts with the generals as the only alternative with 
prospects of success. 

The second group was, of course, composed of the senior generals of the 
Vietnamese Army. Plotting by this group also began in earnest in June. Initially, 
its leader was identified as General Khiem and later General Don, but the de 
facto leader throughout was, no doubt, General Minh who commanded by far 
the greatest respect and allegiance within the officer corps. The four principal 
members of the group were Generals Minh, Don, Khiem, and Kim, all of whom 
were stationed in Saigon without troop command, the latter three at JGS and 
General Minh as a palace military advisor. Generals Tri and Khanh, I and II 
Corps commanders respectively, were secondary members of the generals' group, 
but were also in touch with the Thao group. The abortive attempt by the gen- 
erals to launch a coup in August has already been described in detail. Important 
lessons seem to have been learned by these men from that experience, for when 
they again began to set their plans and make arrangements it was with great 
attention to detail and with an explicit division of labor. 

Among the plotters, General Minh had the overall direction of the coup 
activities, although the group acted in committee fashion with the members ap- 
parently voting at several points on particular actions. He was also responsible 
for the military operation of the coup itself. General Don was the liaison with 
the Americans and responsible for wooing General Dinh. General Kim handled 
planning for the post-coup government and the relations with the civilian groups 
that were expected to be called on to support the coup. General Khiem was to 
play a critical role at the end of October as the liaison man with the Thao coup 
group in working out the details of their support and integration into the actual 
execution of the coup. 

As already noted, the fundamental problem of the plotters was their lack of 
troop command in the immediate Saigon area. The Ngo family's longstanding 
fear of military coups, as previously discussed, had been the main factor in all 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 265 

military command assignments and promotion policy. Nowhere was loyalty a 
more important prerequisite for command than in Saigon, the surrounding III 
Corps, and the nearby IV Corps, with its headquarters only 40 miles away down 
Highway 4. In addition to the sizable special forces units in Saigon under 
Colonel Tung and the various national police and paramilitary units that also 
took their orders directly from the palace, Diem had appointed the vain, 
ambitious, and supposedly loyal General Dinh as Commander of III Corps 
(whose 5th Division was stationed at nearby Bien Hoa) and the Saigon Mil- 
itary District. Furthermore, the IV Corps was commanded by General Cao, 
who had saved Diem during the 1960 coup by bringing his loyal 7th Division 
troops up from My Tho. It was on this formidable line-up of forces that the 
family had staked its survival; and not without reason, as the frustrated coup of 
August demonstrated. 

Saigon, however, was not entirely without dissident elements. With the ex- 
ception of their commanders, the Marine battalion, the airborne battalion, and 
the Air Force were all sympathetic to a coup. But the plotters knew that a fa- 
vorable balance of forces could not be achieved or maintained without either the 
conversion or neutralization of Generals Dinh and Cao. 

During the August pagoda raids, Dinh had been given overall command of 
the crackdown, although Tung had taken his instructions as always directly from 
Nhu in carrying out the attacks. Thereafter, Dinh, who was a notorious braggart, 
boasted that he had saved the country from the Buddhists, Communists, and 
"foreign adventurers." Carried away with himself, he held a news conference on 
August 27 in which he was harried and finally humiliated by antagonistic 
American journalists. The plotting generals decided that they would play on his 
vanity and egoism to win him over to their side. With his pride injured at the 
hands of the newsmen, Dinh was easy prey to Don's suggestion that Nhu had 
played him for a fool, but that he really was a national hero, and that the regime 
was indebted to him. Don suggested that Dinh go to Diem with a plan to increase 
military participation in the government, specifically that he, Dinh, be named 
Minister of Interior. Don rightly expected that Diem would be outraged at such 
a brazen request, and would reprimand Dinh, further wounding his pride and 
alienating him from the regime. Diem reacted as expected, and ordered Dinh 
to take a "vacation" in Dalat for a while. Don at this point began his long effort 
to woo Dinh to the plotters side against Diem. Dinh, however, lacked self-con- 
fidence and vacillated although he does not appear to have played a double 
roll by revealing the existence of the plot to the palace. While the elaborate 
stratagems for seducing Dinh were taking place, the plotters had carefully sur- 
rounded him with supporters of the coup, including his deputy, Colonel Co, 
whom they felt they could rely on to neutralize him if he showed signs of rally- 
ing to the family once the balloon was up. By the end of the third week 
in October, the plotters felt reasonably confident that the problem of Dinh had 
been resolved: he would, as an opportunist, rally to the coup if he felt it was 
going to succeed; if he did not, he would be eliminated. 

At the same time, plans had been under way to neutralize General Cao, the 
IV Corps commander, since he would certainly betray the plotters to the palace 
if he got word of the plans, or bring his troops to Diem's aid if the coup started 
while he was still in control of them. To do this, Colonel Co, Dinh's deputy, was 
sent to the Delta to win the support of the subordinate commanders in IV Corps. 
In the ultimate plan, Co would be sent with JGS orders to take command of the 
7th Division in My Tho on the day before the coup began; he would order all 
boats to the Saigon side of the Mekong River; and, thus, act as a blocking force 

266 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/VoL II 

to General Cao who, stranded in Can Tho on the far side of the Mekong, was 
then be arrested by dissident officers in his own command. Co apparently was 
successful in getting the support of the great majority of the subordinate officers, 
but one loyal officer heard of the plans and immediately tipped off Nhu. 

Diem and Nhu called in Dinh and revealed what they had learned, attempt- 
ing to force his hand. Dinh reacted with feigned shock and suggested that Co 
be executed immediately. This convinced Nhu that Dinh was not involved. They 
preferred to keep Co alive to get more information from him. Nhu then re- 
vealed his own elaborate scheme for a pseudo-coup that would pre-empt the 
plotters and squelch their plans. His two-part plan was to start with the transfer 
of Colonel Tung's special forces out of Saigon on maneuvers. The phony coup 
would then take place with Diem and Nhu escaping to their hideaway at Cap 
St Jacques. After several days of hooliganism including the murder of several 
prominent Vietnamese and some Americans, the loyal 5th Division under Dinh 
and the 7th under Cao would counterattack the city and Diem and Nhu would 
return as triumphant heroes, more secure than ever. Dinh was the key to Nhu's 

Dinh's role becomes confused at this point. He apparently was uncertain about 
the relative balance of forces and decided to cooperate with both sides until he 
could decide which he felt was going to gain the upper hand, although he was 
probably still leaning toward the palace. In any case, if he was trusted by the 
Nhus, he certainly was not by the generals because they confided in him none 
of their detailed plans for the operation, and Nhu's plan, in which he would 
have played the key role, never came to fruition. It was pre-empted by the real 
coup the generals had been plotting. 

By the last week in October, timing had become critical. The Thao group ap- 
parently had intended to act on October 24, but were dissuaded by Don and 
Khiem who argued that they had too few forces to guarantee success. It was at 
this juncture that Khiem brought the Thao group into the plans and worked out 
joint arrangements with them for the execution of the coup. Shaplen says that 
the generals' coup was originally planned for November 4. This conflicts, how- 
ever, with what Don had told Conein on October 24, namely that it would occur 
before November 2. By Shaplen's account, Dinh revealed the planned date of 
the coup to Nhu who instructed him to urge that it be advanced to November 1. 
Nhu still thought somehow he could carry off his plan by abandoning the phony 
coup, by letting the real substitute for it in the hope that it would be thrown off 
balance by the advanced date, and by relying on Dinh's loyal troops as supple- 
mented by Cao's to tip the scale in the family's favor once the chips were down. 
In allowing the generals to make their move, the principal rebels would all be 
compromised and Nhu could then act to crush all major dissidence. Whatever 
the reason, whether by Nhu's intrigue or by their own timetable, the generals 
set the coup for November 1 . 

While they had left a worried U.S. officialdom with only sketchy ideas of the 
planned operation, the generals had themselves devoted great attention to all 
details of their move. When the hour came for execution, the plan was imple- 
mented with hardly a hitch, and the fate of the regime was sealed in the first 
hours of the coup. 

On October 29, the first preparatory action for a coup was taken. General 
Dinh ordered Colonel Tung to move his special forces out of the capital for 
maneuvers, but whether he was acting as the agent of the generals or the palace 
is still unclear. Simultaneously, the chief of intelligence, who had been a member 
of the Thao plot and was now participating in the generals' plan, passed phony 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 267 

intelligence of a VC build-up outside Saigon to Diem and Nhu to get them to 
divert loyal units that could have been used to thwart a coup. 

The day of the coup itself began improbably with an official U.S. call 
on Diem. Admiral Felt, CINCPAC, had been visiting General Harkins to re- 
view the situation and prior to his departure at noon, he and Lodge paid 
a courtesy call on the President. Diem's monologue was little different from what 
he had said to McNamara and Taylor the month before. As they were leaving, 
however, he called Lodge aside and they talked privately for twenty minutes. 
Diem, in a tragically unwitting example of too little too late, indicated that he 
wanted to talk to Lodge about what it was the U.S. wanted him to do. The 
atmosphere of this meeting must have been strained in the extreme in view of 
Lodge's awareness of the imminence of the coup. After the meeting, Felt went 
straight to the airport and held a press conference, with a nervous General Don 
at his side, before departing at noon unaware of the drama that was already 

While Lodge and Felt had been at the palace, coup units had already begun 
to deploy in and around Saigon. At the same time, nearly all the generals and 
top officers had been convened for a noon meeting at JGS headquarters at Tan 
Son Nhut. There the coup committee informed them that the coup had begun 
and asked for their support. Pledges of support were recorded on tape by all 
those present who supported the action. They were to be used later over the 
radio and would implicate the entire senior officer corps of the Army in the 
event the coup failed. In this way the plotters were able to enlist the support of 
several wavering officers. The only senior officers not present were Generals 
Dinh and Cao, who were not informed of the meeting to prevent their revealing 
the coup prematurely to the palace or taking counter action. Also not present 
was the South Vietnamese Chief of Naval Operations, who had been assas- 
sinated by a trigger-happy escort enroute. Several officers suspected of being 
loyal to Diem were taken into immediate custody at JGS, including Colonel 
Tung, and the commanders of the Air Force, the airborne brigade, the Marines, 
the Civil Guard, and the police force. A CAS officer, presumably Lt Colonel 
Conein, was also invited to come to JGS and was authorized to maintain tele- 
phone contact with the Embassy during the coup. He provided reliable reporting 
throughout the next two days. 

At 1:45 p.m., Don called General Stilwell, Harkins' J-3, and informed him 
that all the generals were assembled at jGS and that the coup had begun. At 
the same time, coup forces were seizing the post office with its telecommuni- 
cations facilities, the police headquarters, the radio stations, the airport, and the 
naval headquarters, and were deploying in positions to assault the special 
forces headquarters near Tan Son Nhut, the palace, and the barracks of the 
palace guard. Other units had been deployed in blocking positions to defend 
against any loyal counterattack from units outside Saigon. These actions were 
swift and met with little resistance. The units involved included the Marine and 
airborne units under the leadership of junior officers, the Air Force under junior 
officers, and units from the 5th Division under orders from Dinh, who had 
thrown in his lot when he became aware of the unanimity of the senior officers 
and their apparent likelihood of success. Later in the day, armor and troops 
from the 7th Division at My Tho, under the insurgent leadership of Colonel 
Co, arrived for the assault on the palace. 

As is always the case in this kind of crisis, the quantity of cables quickly over- 
whelmed the communications system, and the incompleteness of the reports 
meant that no clear picture of what was happening could be pieced together 

268 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol II 

until later. As in all such situations, the Embassy became an island linked to 
outside events only by tenuous reports from telephone contacts. 

In the early afternoon, Colonel Tung, who had been arrested on the 
morning of November 1, was forced to call his special forces and tell them to 
surrender to the coup forces. Not long thereafter, the adjacent special forces 
headquarters fell to the coup units after a brief skirmish. When this occurred, 
the palace was reduced for its defense to the palace guard, since the re- 
mainder of the special forces were outside the city and effectively cut off from 
it, and all other unit commanders had come under the command of officers in- 
volved in the coup. General Cao, the IV Corps commander, pledged his sup- 
port to the coup in the late afternoon, although it is not clear whether this was 
opportunistic or whether he thought the coup was really Phase I of Nhu's 
plan. Not trusting him, however, the generals placed him under guard. At 
4:30 p.m., the generals went on the radio to announce the coup and demand 
the resignation of Diem and Nhu. This was followed by a continuing broad- 
cast of the pledges of support of the senior officers that had been recorded 
that morning. Meanwhile, Air Force transports were dropping prepared leaf- 
lets announcing the coup, and calling on the populace to support it. 

At the beginning, Diem and Nhu were apparently fooled by the coup, or had 
completely miscalculated the extent of its support. At the first indications of 
coup actions, Nhu reportedly assured an alarmed official that it was all 
part of a palace plan. When word reached the palace that all key points had 
fallen, Nhu tried to contact General Dinh. When he could not reach him, he 
realized that he had been outfoxed and that the coup was genuine. By this 
time, fighting was going on between the coup forces and the palace guard at 
the palace and the nearby guard barracks. When the generals called the two 
brothers and asked them to surrender, promising them safe conduct out of the 
country, Diem replied by asking them to come to the palace for "consulta- 
tions," an obvious attempt to repeat the 1960 tactic of delaying the coup 
long enough for loyal troops to reach the city. The generals, however, were not 
bargaining — they were demanding. 

At 4:30 p.m., Diem called Lodge to ask where he stood and the following 
conversation ensued: 

Diem: Some units have made a rebellion and I want to know what is the 
attitude of the US? 

Lodge: I do not feel well enough informed to be able to tell you. I have 
heard the shooting, but am not acquainted with all the facts. Also it 
is 4:30 a.m. in Washington and the US Government cannot possibly 
have a view. 

Diem: But you must have some general ideas. After all, I am a Chief of 
State. I have tried to do my duty. I want to do now what duty and 
good sense require. I believe in duty above all. 

Lodge: You have certainly done your duty. As I told you only this morn- 
ing, I admire your courage and your great contributions to your 
country. No one can take away from you the credit for all you have 
done. Now I am worried about your physical safety. I have a report 
that those in charge of the current activity offer you and your brother 
safe conduct out of the country if you resign. Had you heard this? 

Diem: No. (And then after a pause) You have my telephone number. 

Lodge: Yes. If I can do anything for your physical safety, please call me. 

Diem: I am trying to re-establish order. 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 269 

There is no evidence available as to whether Washington issued further instruc- 
tions with respect to the personal safety of Diem and Nhu at this time. The 
above conversation was the last that any American had with DIEM. Lodge, 
as was his custom, retired that night at about 9:30 p.m. 

Shortly after Diem's call to Lodge, the generals called the palace again 
and put Colonel Tung on the phone. Tung told Nhu he had surrendered. The 
generals then demanded the immediate surrender of the brothers or they would 
put the palace under air and ground attack. Each general at JGS, in turn, was 
put on the phone to assure Diem of safe conduct if he would resign, but Nhu 
apparently dissuaded him. General Minh himself made a separate telephone 
call to Diem in a final attempt to get him to surrender, but Diem hung up. The 
two brothers now began frantically calling unit commanders throughout the 
country on their private communications system to get them to come to their 
aid. In most cases they could not get through, and when they did they were 
told to surrender by officers who now supported the coup. When they could get 
no help from the regular military, they made a vain effort to enlist the support 
of paramilitary units and their Republic Youth groups. Sometime in the early 
evening, probably by eight o'clock, they recognized the hopelessness of the situ- 
ation and escaped from the palace, unbeknown to its defenders, through one 
of the secret underground exits connected to the sewer system. They were met 
by a Chinese friend who took them to his home in Cholon where they had pre- 
viously set up a communications channel to the palace for just such an emer- 
gency. There they spent their last night. 

In the face of the brothers' intransigent refusal to surrender and confident 
that they were now in control of the entire country and that their plans had 
succeeded, the generals began assembling forces and preparing for the siege of 
the palace. At about nine o'clock, they opened an artillery barrage of the pal- 
ace and its defenders. Since the palace was being defended by some tanks, an 
infantry assault with tank support was required to capture it. This began about 
3:30 a.m. on November 2, and lasted until about 6:30 a.m., when the palace 
fell, after Diem had issued a cease-fire order to the palace guard from his 
Cholon hideaway. 

Throughout the night the brothers had remained in contact with both their 
loyal supporters at the palace, and periodically with the insurgents. The latter 
did not learn that the brothers had fled until the rebel forces under Colonel 
Thao invaded the palace. At 6:20 a.m., Diem called JGS and spoke personally 
with General Don, offering to surrender in exch ange for a gua ra ntee of safe 
conduct to the airport ana departure from Vietnam. Minh agreed to these"* 
termsT^but Diem did not reveal his whereabouts, still apparently unable to 
grasp the new realities. Colonel Thao learned of the location of the hideaway 
from a captured officer of the palace guard and received permission from 
Minh to go there and get the brothers. When he arrived at the house, he 
telephoned again to headquarters to report his location and was overheard by 
the brothers on another extension. They escaped to a nearby Catholic church, 
where once again Diem called General Don at 6:50 a.m. and surrendered un- 
conditionally. He and Nhu were taken prisoner shortly thereafter by General 
Mai Huu Xuan, a long time enemy, who according to most accounts ordered 
or permitted their murder in the back of an armored personnel carrier enroute 
to JGS headquarters. 

The State Department reacted to news of the coup in terms of the recogni- 
tion problem with respect to the new government. Rusk felt that a delay would 
be useful to the generals in not appearing to be U.S. agents or stooges and 

270 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/ Vol. II 

would assist us in our public stance of noncomplicity. He further discouraged 
any large delegation of the generals from calling on Lodge as if they were 
"reporting in." A subsequent message stressed the need to underscore publicly 
the fact that this was not so much a coup as an expression of national will, a 
fact revealed by the near unanimous support of important military and civilian 
leaders. It further stressed the importance of Vice President Tho to a quick re- 
turn to constitutional government and the need, therefore, for the generals to 
include him in any interim regime. Lodge replied affirmatively to these views, 
indicating his opinion that we should encourage other friendly countries to 
recognize the new government first with the assurance that the U.S. would 
follow suit shortly. Further, we should show our friendly support for the re- 
gime and without fanfare resume payments in the commercial import program. 

The news of the brutal and seemingly pointless murder of Diem and Nhu, 
however, was received in Washington with shock and dismay. President Ken- 
nedy was reportedly personally stunned at the news, particularly in view of 
the heavy U.S. involvement in encouraging the coup leaders. Apparently, we 
had put full confidence in the coup committee's offers of safe conduct to the 
brothers and, reluctant to intercede on behalf of Diem and Nhu for fear of 
appearing to offer support to them or of reneging on our pledges of non-inter- 
ference to the generals, we had not appreciated the degree of hatred of the Ngo 
family among the generals, nor their fear that if the brothers survived the 
coup they would somehow, sometime stage a comeback. In their first meeting 
with Lodge after the coup, however, the generals denied that the assassina- 
tion had been ordered, and promised to make public their offer of safe conduct 
to Diem if he would resign. 

While the callousness of the murders of Diem and Nhu, their previous repres- 
siveness notwithstanding, horrified the world, the success of the coup and the 
deaths of the hated brothers were greeted with popular jubilation in South Viet- 
nam. Spontaneous street demonstrations by students in a holiday mood ended 
in the burning of the offices of the Times of Vietnam and the destruction of 
a statue modeled after Mme. Nhu. The tension released set off celebrations 
rivaled only by the annual Tet New Year festivities. Americans were greeted 
and received with great enthusiasm, and Lodge was widely regarded as the hero 
of the whole train of events. Vietnamese were heard to remark that if an 
election for president were held Lodge would win by a landslide. 

Thus, the nine-year rule of Ngo Dinh Diem came to a sudden, bloody, and 
permanent end, and U.S. policy in Vietnam plunged into the unknown, our 
complicity in the coup only heightening our responsibilities and our commit- 
ment in this struggling, leaderless land. We could be certain only that whatever 
new leadership emerged would be fragile, untried, and untested. 


Even before the initiation of the coup, the coup committee through Gen- 
eral Kim had been in touch with civilian political oppositionists and to some 
extent with members of Diem's government. Once the success of the coup 
was certain, negotiations with these civilians by the generals' committee began 
in earnest. On the night of November 1 and the following day, all ministers 
of Diem's government were told to submit their resignations and did so, some 
on U.S. advice. No reprisals were taken against them. Indeed, Vice President 
Tho entered into intensive negotiations with General Minh on November 2 on 
the composition of the interim government. He apparently understood the 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 271 

eagerness of the generals to have him head a new government to provide con- 
tinuity, and he used this knowledge to bargain with them about the composi- 
tion of the cabinet. He was not to be their pliant tool. 

While these conferences were taking place, the coup committee, or "Revolu- 
tionary Committee" as it was now calling itself, distributed leaflets and press 
releases announcing the dissolution of the National Assembly and the aboli- 
tion of the Diem-Nhu government based on the constitution of 1956, and 
proclaiming the support of the committee for such democratic principles as 
free elections, unhampered political opposition, freedom of press, freedom of 
religion, and an end to discrimination. They were at pains to explain that the 
purpose of the coup was to bolster the fight against the Communists which they 
pledge themselves to pursue with renewed vigor and determination. 

On the afternoon of November 3, the second day after the coup, Generals 
Don and Kim called on Lodge at the Embassy, explaining that General Minh 
was tied up in conversations with Vice President Tho on the new government. 
The conversation was long and touched on many topics. It began with mutual 
expressions of satisfaction at the success of the coup, and continued with 
Lodge's assurance of forthcoming U.S. recognition for their new government. 
The generals explained that they had decided on a two-tiered government 
structure with a military committee presided over by General Minh overseeing 
a regular cabinet that would be mostly civilian with Tho as prime minister. 
Lodge promised to see to the immediate restoration of certain of the aid pro- 
grams and the speedy resumption of the others when the government was in 
place. They then dealt with a host of immediate problems including the return 
of the Nhu children to their mother and the disposition of the rest of the 
Ngo family, press censorship, the release of Tri Quang from the Embassy, cur- 1 
few, reprisals against former ministers, etc. The generals confirmed the psycho- I 
logical importance of the commodity import suspension to the success of their ' 
plans. Lodge was elated, both at the efficiency and success of the coup, and the 
seriousness and determination of the generals to deal with the pressing prob- 
lems and get on with the war. 

The following day, on instructions from Washington, Lodge, in company 
with Lt Colonel Conein, met with Generals Minh and Don. Washington had 
been anxious for Lodge to urgently convey to the generals the need to make 
a clarifying statement about the deaths of the brothers and to take steps to 
insure humane treatment of other members of the family. The generals were 
responsive to Lodge's urgings and promised to see that action was taken on the 
U.S. requests. Minh said that the composition of the new government would be 
announced shortly. In describing the meeting later, Lodge offered a prophetic 
description of Minh: "Minh seemed tired and somewhat frazzled; obviously a 
good, well-intentioned man. Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?" 
Lodge closed the cable by taking exception to State's excessive pre-occupa- 
tion with the negative public relations problems of the coup and decrying its 
failure to note the brilliance with which the coup was planned and executed. 

The promised announcement of the new government came on the morning 
of November 5. It was very much as General Kim had described it to Lodge 
on November 3. Minh was named President and Chief of the Military Com- 
mittee; Tho was listed as Premier, Minister of Economy, and Minister of Fi- 
nance; Don was named Minister of Defense; and General Dinh was named to 
the Ministry of Security (Interior). Only one other general was included in the 
cabinet of fifteen which was composed primarily of bureaucrats and civilians 
with no previous experience. Political figures, either opposed to Diem or not, 

272 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

were conspicuously absent from the cabinet, a fact which would impair the 
new government's securing the roots in popular support it would need in the 
long run. The announcement of the new cabinet was followed by the release 
of "Provisional Constitutional Act No. 1," signed by General Minh, formally 
suspending the 1956 constitution and outlining the structure and functions of 
the interim government. On November 6, Saigon radio announced the com- 
position of the Executive Committee of the Military Revolutionary Council. 
Minh was Chairman, Don and Dinh were Deputy Chairmen, and nine other 
senior generals, including Kim, Khiem, "little" Minh, Chieu, and Thieu were 
members. Significantly, General Khanh was not. 

On October 5, the new Foreign Minister had sent a note to the Embassy 
informing the Ambassador officially of the change of government, and express- 
ing the hope that relations between the two countries would be continued 
and strengthened. State approved Lodge's proposed reply of recognition the 
following day, November 6, and, under the pressure of other governments and 
the press, announced its intention to recognize on November 7 in Washington. 
The note of recognition was delivered on November 8, when Lodge called on 
the new Foreign Minister, Pham Dang Lam. Lam, emphasizing his own in- 
sufficiencies for the job he had been given, asked for Lodge's advice which 
Lodge was apparently not reluctant to give on a variety of topics. The primary 
impression left was that the new government would be heavily dependent on 
U.S. advice and support, not only for the war effort, but also in the practical 
problems of running the country. 

In the first three weeks of November 1963, three problems preoccupied 
most Americans and Vietnamese in the new political and military situation 
created by the coup. The first of these was getting the new government started, 
developing the relations between the new Vietnamese officials and their Amer- 
ican counterparts, and most importantly shaking down the power relationships 
within the new regime. The first two aspects of this problem would be self-re- 
solving and were largely a matter of time. With respect to the latter, it was 
clear from the outset that General Minh was the dominant figure in the new 
government and was so regarded by nearly all the military men. Tho, however, 
had exhibited considerable independence during the negotiations over the 
cabinet, reflecting his confidence that the generals felt they needed him. The 
open question, then, was what degree of freedom of action the new cabinet 
under Tho would have, or alternatively, how deeply the military council in- 
tended to involve itself in running the country. This issue was not resolved in 
the public statements and communiques of the new regime and ambiguity on 
the subject was clearly reflected in the lack of decisiveness and vigor of the new 
ministers and in their general uncertainty as to their authority. While the exact 
reasons for not including any politicians in the cabinet are not known, it is rea- 
sonable to assume that neither Tho nor the military were anxious to see po- 
tential political rivals, with power deriving from popular support, in positions 
to challenge the authority of the new leaders. Whatever the case, it was the ir- 
resolution of the power relationship within the new government that was one 
of the factors contributing to the next round of coup-making in January 1964. 

The second urgent problem of these first weeks in November was the ra- 
pidly deteriorating economic situation in Vietnam. The situation had been seri- 
ous in September, and a large deficit for the 1964 budget had already been fore- 
cast. The suspension of the commercial import payments and selected PL 480 
had aggravated the situation during September and October. Furthermore, all 
negotiations on the 1964 budget levels and U.S. support had been sus- 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 273 

pended and were now seriously behind schedule. Aware of the urgency of the 
problem, State, on November 2, had asked for Lodge's recommendations on 
the resumption of aid and had urged him to identify the people responsible 
for economic planning in the new government so that negotiations could be- 
gin immediately. Concern was also expressed at the lack of expertise in this 
area among the generals and Lodge was advised to encourage them to make 
maximum use of economists in the previous government who were familiar 
with the problems. Lodge proposed in response that the government be asked 
to name a high level commission of economic experts to work with a similar 
group from the U.S. Mission. This suggestion had been agreed to in principle 
the previous day by Tho, through whose office all economic aid matters were 
to be channeled. Lodge also believed that our aid should be increased as an 
indication of our support for the new government. But beyond these prelimi- 
nary discussions, no real progress was made on the economic problems before 
the Honolulu Conference on November 20. 

The third problem that worried Americans was the heightened level of Viet! 
Cong activity in the wake of the coup and the military dislocations caused by | 
it. Related, but of even more importance, was the new information that came 
to light after the coup and in the atmosphere of free discussion that it generated 
showing that the military situation was far worse than we had believed. The 
overall statistical indicators had now begun to show deterioration dating back to 
the summer. The incidence of VC attacks was up over the first six months of 
1963, the weapons loss ratio had worsened and the rate of VC defections was 
'way down. In the immediate wake of the coup, VC activity had jumped dra- 
matically as MACV had feared it would and there was great concern to re- 
turn units participating in the coup to the field quickly to forestall any major 
Communist offensive. Cause for more fundamental concern, however, were 
the first rumors and indications that under Diem there had been regular and 
substantial falsification in the military reporting system and in reporting on 
the strategic hamlets that had badly distorted the real military situation in Viet- 
nam to make it appear less serious than it was. This, it turned out, was the 
main reason for the previous discrepancies in MACV and U.S. mission evalu- 
ations of the war. In the first flush of self-satisfaction after the coup, Lodge 
had predicted that the change of regime would shorten the war because of the 
improved morale of the ARVN troops. But as time wore on, the accumulating 
evidence of the gravity of the military situation displaced these sanguine prog- 

The only comforting note in the intelligence was the apparent discomfiture 
of the National Liberation Front. Throughout the summer and fall, the NLF 
had seemingly been unable to capitalize on the Buddhist or student struggle 
movements. In fact, its principal response to the Diem-Buddhist clash had been 
increasingly vituperative attacks on the U.S. Not until November 7th did the 
NLF issue a post-Diem policy statement, consisting of a list of "eight demands": 

( 1 ) Destroy all strategic hamlets . . . and other disguised camps. 

(2) Release all political detainees. . . . 

(3) Promulgate without delay democratic freedom. . . . 

(4) Root out all vestiges of the fascist and militarist dictatorial regime. 

(5) Stop all persecution and repression and raiding operations. 

(6) Dissolve all nepotist organizations. . . . 

(7) Immediately stop forcible conscription. . . . 

(8) Cancel all kinds of unjustified taxes. 

274 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

The Duong Van Minh government could claim that it was in the process of 
meeting all of these "demands" except one — halting the draft — so that the 
NLF was effectively pre-empted. On November 17, the NLF Central Com- 
mittee issued another series of demands: 

( 1 ) Eliminate the vestiges of the Diem regime. 

(2) Establish democratic freedom. 

(3) Eliminate American influence. 

(4) Make social and economic reforms. 

(5) Halt the fighting. 

(6) Establish a coalition government. 

The demands were accompanied by a statement affirming the reunification of 
Vietnam as a goal of the NLF, the first such statement in over two years. 
Douglas Pike's analysis was unable to resolve the reasons for the inaction of 
the NLF throughout the crisis: 

Had the NLF leadership wished to do so, it could have used its impres- 
sive struggle machine to launch in the name of the Buddha a nation-wide 
struggle movement that conceivably could have ended with its long-pur- 
sued General Uprising . . . Knowledgeable Vietnamese attributed its re- 
fusal to act an unwillingness to involve itself in an alien struggle movement. 
The NLF and the communists, ran the argument, avoid activities over 
which they do not exercise total control. . . . The Buddhist leadership 
made it clear it did not seek NLF help since it wished at all costs to avoid the 
Communist stigma. Another popular explanation for the NLF's "sit- 
tight" policy during the Buddhist troubles was that the NLF was going to 
allow the bourgeois revolutionary forces to succeed in toppling Diem, 
after which it would capture the Revolution as the Kerensky Govern- 
ment was captured in the Russian Revolution. No such effort, however, 
was made by the NLF. A slanderous but widely bandied explanation 
among Vietnamese at the time was that the NLF did not want Diem re- 
moved, that he and his brothers and sister-in-law were far more valu- 
able to the NLF in office than out. In truth, the NLF posture during 
J this period remains something of a mystery. 


Having postponed his planned October 31 visit to Washington because of the 
imminence of the coup, Lodge apparently suggested, in response to a State 
query, that it be rescheduled for November 10. Rusk proposed a further post- 
ponement to insure time for Lodge to establish working relations with the new 
government and to take advantage of his own planned trip to Tokyo later in 
the month. Accordingly, a meeting with Rusk, Bundy, Bell, McNamara, and 
Taylor in Honolulu was scheduled on November 20 for the entire country 
team. Lodge was invited to proceed on to Washington after the meeting if he 
felt he needed to talk with the President. 

In preparation for the conference, State dispatched a long series of specific 
questions to Lodge on possible methods of broadening the political base of sup- 
port of the new government and increasing the effectiveness of the war ef- 
fort. This was additional to the comprehensive review of the situation, includ- 
ing an evaluation of progress on the McNamara-Taylor recommendations, that 

The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963 275 

the military was expected to provide and the in-depth assessment of the new 
regime and its prospects by the country team. Lodge replied even before arriv- 
ing at the conference that the proposed discussions would require detailed in- 
formation about the functioning of the new rulers which it was far too early 
to obtain. 

In a broad overview of the new political situation in Vietnam at the plenary 
session in Honolulu, Lodge voiced his optimism about the actions taken thus 
far by the new government to consolidate its popular support. In particular, he 
noted the efforts to eliminate forced labor in the strategic hamlets, to curtail 
arbitrary arrests, to deal with extortion and corruption, to enlist the support 
of the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai sects, and to consolidate and strengthen the stra- 
tegic hamlet program. But, he left no doubt that the new leadership was inex- 
perienced and fragile. For this reason, he urged the conferees not to press too 
much on the government too soon, either in the way of military and economic 
programs, nor steps to democratize and constitutionalize the country. His second 
major point was the psychological and political, as well as economic, need for 
U.S. aid to the new government in at least the amount of our aid to Diem, 
and preferably more. He recognized the domestic political problems in the U.S. 
with Congress, but he argued that anything less would be a severe blow to the 
new rulers who were still getting their bearings. USOM Director Brent sup- 
ported these latter views, but registered his concern about the naivete of the 
new leaders in the face of an extremely grave economic situation. In response 
to a direct question from Rusk as to whether an increase in dollars would 
shorten the war, Lodge demurred somewhat and replied that what was re- 
quired was greater motivation. McNamara immediately disagreed, saying that 
his understanding of the piaster deficit problem was that it was endangering all 
the programs, and that both AID and MAP were in need of increased funding. 
Concurring in this view, AID Administrator Bell agreed to review the entire 
AID program. 

General Harkins' assessment of the military situation took note of the up- 
surge of Viet Cong activity in the week following the coup, but in general re- 
mained optimistic, although more guardedly than in the past. The sharp in- 
crease in VC attacks after the coup seemed to have been haphazard, and not 
part of a well coordinated country-wide response to the uncertain political 
situation. And in the week just ended, activity had returned to more normal 
levels. Moreover, he did not show concern about the seeming long term de- 
terioration in the statistical indicators. While he was favorably impressed with 
the determination of the new leaders to prosecute the war and make needed 
changes, he was worried about the sweeping replacemnt of division and corps 
commanders and province chiefs. The discontinuities and disruptions created 
by wholesale replacement of province chiefs could have a serious negative ef- 
fect on the whole counterinsurgency program. On the positive side, he noted 
the strengthened chain of command under General Don as both Defense Min- 
ister and Chief of Staff. McNamara pointedly questioned both Harkins and the 
other military briefers about conditions in the Delta and seemed skeptical of 
the official optimism, although he was equally disinclined to accept undocu- 
mented negative judgments. 

The conference ended inconclusively with respect to the military problem. 
It did, however, underscore U.S. support for the new regime and focus U.S. 
official concern on the urgency and gravity of the economic problem confront- 
ing the new government. An uninformative press release after the conference 
took note of U.S. support for the new government in facing the difficult politi- 

276 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

cal and economic problems in South Vietnam, and pointedly reiterated the 
plan to withdraw 1,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year with 300 to leave on 
December 3. 

Lodge flew to Washington the following day and conferred with President 
Johnson. Based on that meeting and the report of the discussions at Honolulu, 
a National Security Action Memorandum was drafted to give guidance and di- 
rection to our efforts to improve the conduct of the war under the new South 
Vietnamese leadership. It described the purpose of the American involvement 
in Vietnam as, "to assist the people and Government of that country to win 
their contest against the externally directed and supported Communist con- 
spiracy." It defined contribution to that purpose as the test of all U.S. actions 
in Vietnam. It reiterated the objectives of withdrawing 1,000 U.S. troops by the 
end of 1963 and ending the insurgency in I, II, and III Corps by the end of 
1964, and in the Delta by the end of 1965. U.S. support for the new regime 
was confirmed and all U.S. efforts were directed to assist it to consolidate it- 
self and expand its popular support. In view of the series of press stories dur- 
ing November about the disagreements between Harkins and Lodge, the Presi- 
dent requested "full unity of support for established US policy" both in Saigon 
and in Washington. NSAM 273 directed the concentration of U.S. and Viet- 
namese military, political, economic and social efforts to improve the coun- 
terinsurgency campaign in the Mekong Delta. It further directed that economic 
and military aid to the new regime should be maintained at the same levels as 
during Diem's rule. And in conclusion, plans were requested for clandestine 
operations by the GVN against the North and also for operations up to 50 kil- 
ometers into Laos; and, as a justification for such measures, State was directed 
to develop a strong, documented case "to demonstrate to the world the degree 
to which the Viet Cong is controlled, sustained and supplied from Hanoi, 
through Laos and other channels." 

As a policy document, NSAM 273 was to be extremely short lived. In the 
jargon of the bureaucracy, it was simply overtaken by events. The gravity of 
the military situation in South Vietnam was only hinted at in NSAM 273 and 
in the discussions in Honolulu. Its full dimensions would rapidly come to light 
in the remaining weeks of 1963 and force high level reappraisals by year's end. 
But probably more important, the deterioration of the Vietnamese position 
in the countryside and the rapid collapse of the strategic hamlet program were 
to confront the fragile new political structure in South Vietnam with difficulties 
it could not surmount and to set off rivalries that would fulfill all the dire pre- 
dictions of political instability made by men as diverse as John Mecklin and 
Fritz Nolting before Diem's fall. 


5. US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967 

Summary and Analysis 
1964-JUNE 1965 

In 1964 the U.S. tried to make GVN strong, effective, and stable, and it 
failed. When the U.S. offered more aid, GVN accepted it without improving; 
they promised to mobilize, but failed to speed up the slow buildup of their 
forces. When the U.S. offered a firmer commitment to encourage them, in- 
cluding possible later bombing of North Vietnam, the GVN tried to pressure us 
to do it sooner. When the U.S. endorsed Khanh, he overplayed his hand, pro- 
voked mob violence, and had to back down to a weaker position than before. 
When Taylor lectured them and threatened them, the ruling generals of GVN 
defied him, and allied themselves with the street rioters. After several changes 
of government in Vietnam, the U.S. could set no higher goal than GVN sta- 
bility. During this period, the USG was already starting to think about doing 
the job ourselves if our Vietnamese ally did not perform. 

At first the U.S. thought that the power of the Vietnamese generals would 
make GVN strong and effective. In fact, the U.S. preference, at this time, 
was for military leadership in the GVN. However, the generals proved to be 
less than perfectly united. They found they had to bow to the power of student 
and Buddhist street mobs, and they lacked the will and the ability to compel 
the civil government to perform. Yet, the U.S. saw no alternative but to back 
them — to put up with Vietnamese hypersensitivity, their easy compliance com- 
bined with non-performance, and their occasional defiance. Moreover, MACV 
was even less ready to pressure the generals than was the Embassy and the 
Embassy less willing than Washington. MACV controlled the resources that 
mattered most to the South Vietnamese. 

Pacification lagged, and the military picture steadily worsened. Planning of 
pressures against the North became more urgent, and the prospect of increas- 
ing U.S. inputs to all phases of the war loomed larger. The U.S. was more and 
more abandoning the hope that the Vietnamese could win the war by them- 
selves. At the same time, the U.S. was preparing itself internally (NSAM 288 
with the objective of an "independent non-communist Vietnam") and ready- 
ing the American people (the Tonkin Gulf Resolution) for deeper commit- 

The period saw six major changes of government. At the end of January, 
1964, Khanh seized power from the Minh government. In August, after his 
attempt to formalize military control, mob violence forced him to give way and 
to join a Triumvirate. It presided over formation of the civilian High National 
Council, which wrote a Constitution and elected the civilian President Suu and 
Prime Minister Huong to replace the Triumvirate. In December the military 
dissolved the High National Council, and in January 1965 they dismissed Hu- 
ong, replacing him by Khanh as caretaker. In February, they appointed a new 

278 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

civilian government, with Suu still President and with Quat as Prime Minis- 
ter. In June, Ky took over. Besides all this, coup groups seized Saigon twice be- 
fore being faced down each lime. 

During the first few months of this period the U.S. abandoned the plan for 
the phased withdrawal of most of our military assistance personnel, and 
stopped believing that the main-force war would come to a successful end by 
the close of 1965. With the start of planning pressures against the North, the 
U.S. first hoped that repeated preliminary signals to Hanoi would bring a re- 
sponse before bombing began; and we hoped that the promise of U.S. force 
commitments would strengthen Vietnamese unity and resolve. Both hopes 
proved vain, and we started bombing North Vietnam systematically without 
getting anything from either Hanoi or GVN. Then the bombing itself failed 
to stop Hanoi's intervention. Seeing no other choice, the U.S. poured troops 
into the country. 

Throughout 1964, the U.S. pursued the objective of a strong, effective GVN 
like the Holy Grail. Increasingly, we felt we had to reassure our Saigon ally 
about the U.S. resolve, and hoped that a firm U.S. commitment through ex- 
tending advisors and through bombing would improve GVN performance, 
Recurrently, we looked to the military as the one coherent, anti-communist 
force in the country. We leaned on them and on their strong-man, who for 
most of the period was Khanh, at first hoping that he or Minh would play the 
role that Magsaysay did in the Philippines. We were interested in legitimacy 
and democratic forms only as a long-run deferrable proposition; although more 
and more we recognized the need for broad political support — especially 
after the Buddhist crisis in August, 1964, had proved its importance. 

As early as the Honolulu Conference in June, 1964, we worried about the 
possible emergence of a hostile government or anarchy; and the South Viet- 
namese played effectively on our fears. We lectured them repeatedly on the 
importance of national unity, both in periods of political calm and in crises. 
When the mobs in the streets faced down the generals, we then clung to the 
position that no one should rock the boat. 

Yet, well beyond our control, General Khanh was a central figure in most 
of these changes. He took over in a coup in January, 1964, and played one 
role after another, for over twelve turbulent months. Then when a coup at- 
tempt failed against a newly installed government in February, 1965, the gen- 
erals turned on Khanh and exiled him. Only the final coup, in which Ky took 
over, saw Khanh absent from the scene. 

Withall, the military improved their hold on GVN machinery. The high 
turnover of district and province officials around the time of the Khanh 
coup put ARVN officers everywhere; and the corps commanders gradually con- 
solidated their power throughout 1964. This tendency reached a climax and 
received a temporary setback in the rebellion that followed the August con- 
stitution. As a result of the successful Buddhist opposition, cabinet changes 
and the charter of the government in Saigon required Buddhist acquiescence. 

These problems were aggravated by the clear and growing lack of legiti- 
macy of GVN. The generals led by Minh, who overthrew Diem, gained an aura 
of respectability by this act because Diem had so completely alienated the peo- 
ple. Whatever their "respectability" may have been worth went down the 
drain, however, when Khanh seized power and then later maneuvered Minh 
out of the country. Khanh's position as a brash usurper gave him little room 
for maneuver among Saigon's complex political currents, although for a time 
the U.S. counted on his "raw power." With subsequent shifts in the form and 

US-GVN Relations 279 

composition of government, the expediency and lack of legitimacy of GVN 
grew more conspicuous and more debilitating. 


U.S. attempts to strengthen the GVN's will to govern and to pacify the 
countryside failed. Moreover, the attempts, conceived in haste, often back- 
fired. In contrast to the steady discussion of alternatives among Washington 
agencies, the Embassy, and MACV on the subject of pressures on the North, 
the idea of pressures on GVN seldom surfaced. When it did surface, it was 
either brushed aside or rushed into. Leverage planning failed to receive even 
that quality and quantity of attention that pressures against North Vietnam 
planning did. 

As a general rule, Washington was more interested in putting pressure on 
GVN than was the Embassy, with the notable exception of Taylor's initiatives 
in December, and MACV was the least interested of all. But these differ- 
ences were less notable than was the almost universal consensus (most of the 
time) that the Vietnamese were too sensitive for such pressures to work, and 
that we had to accept the GVN's non-performance as the best available. 

Starting with Rusk's conversation with Khanh at the end of May, 1964, and 
ending with Taylor's initiative in early December, the U.S. tried to use the 
prospect of U.S. force commitment as an inducement to the Vietnamese to do 
better. However, Taylor said that if this inducement were to fail, the U.S. 
should go ahead with its pressures against the North anyway. Taking this posi- 
tion meant that the attempted inducement was bluff. There is every sign, both 
in their non-performance and in their December-January defiance, that the 
GVN sized it up that way and called the bluff. 

Our attempted leverage included both inducements and threats at one time 
and another; and neither worked out well. Rusk's May, 1964, conversation 
with Khanh, the intensification of pressures planning following the Honolulu 
Conference in June, and the shift of the Chairman, JCS to the post of Am- 
bassador to SVN, all showed U.S. commitment. We hoped these measures and 
talks would directly contribute to GVN morale and effectiveness. However, 
they were followed by the July press leaks and by direct pressure to bomb North 
immediately. The July public endorsement of Khanh was intended to reassure 
all concerned of our support, and so to strengthen GVN. Then, the Gulf of 
Tonkin incidents were followed promptly by Khanh's Constitution, which 
backfired against him and against us, weakening rather than strengthening 

Taylor's bill of particulars against GVN in December was followed immedi- 
ately by attacks on GVN by the Buddhists, and then shortly by the military, 
bringing down the government. Taylor's stern lecture to the Young Turks at 
this time met only with their defiance. They agreed to a compromise solution 
to the crisis when Taylor held up the GVN Defense Budget, and then reversed 
themselves after he released it. The first Flaming Dart raids, opening the de- 
liberate U.S. bombing campaign against the North, were followed shortly by 
another coup attempt. 

There was no disagreement among Washington, the Embassy, and MACV 
that U.S. commitments should be used to improve GVN's morale and per- 
formance. In contrast, however, they often disagreed about putting pressure 
on GVN. In January, 1964, State showed far more interest than did Lodge in 
using the AID negotiations to press GVN for more effort; in the upshot we gave 

280 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

them an AID increase with no strings attached. This disagreement continued 
for several months. McNamara leaned consistently toward giving GVN what- 
ever it needed; only later did he begin to mention increasing our influence. 
But McNamara and JCS did prod Lodge into asking GVN why they were not 
progressing well. In May, 1964, Sullivan proposed direct entry of U.S. person- 
nel into the Vietnamese chain of command; his idea was watered down con- 
siderably in the State Department, and disappeared at the Honolulu Confer- 
ence because of opposition by Lodge and Westmoreland. Other proposals 
agreed to at the conference, relating to new actions and improved programs 
by GVN, interested State far more than they did the Embassy and MACV, as 
revealed in the follow-up. 

By and large the same contrasts prevailed when Taylor was the Ambassador, 
although in December he was far more willing to press GVN than Lodge 
ever was. Even then, at the peak of the crisis, Taylor expressly rejected sanc- 
tions. MACV generally rejected sanctions also, and seemed less willing to apply 
leverage in day-to-day matters than were U.S. civilians in the field. MACV 
studies on GVN ineffectiveness usually proposed more studies and never pro- 
posed pressure on GVN. 

If U.S. force commitments and the record of GVN non-performance reflect 
the failure of leverage, what does the record tell us about how leverage could 
be made to work? Regrettably, the record tells us nothing about that; it merely 
shows that everything we tried went wrong. As noted, attempts at leverage or 
pressure on GVN were seldom thought through and studied carefully. One 
searches in vain for studies, memoranda, or widespread discussion of alterna- 
tive techniques for leverage and of what our experience shows about how they 
might work. Pressures against the North, whose results have disappointed us, 
were a model of planning, foresight, and detailed consideration, compared to 
the subject of pressures on GVN. Yet GVN's failure was the heart of our 
policy problem throughout the period, as many feel it still is. 

The Embassy's Lack of Political Contact 

The shifts of political loyalties, coups, rebellions, and major changes of pub- 
lic figures often caught the Embassy by surprise. It had no effective system, 
either through overt or covert contacts, for finding out what was going on. 
CAS people talked to a few official contacts, who told them things the Viet- 
namese wanted the U.S. to believe; but CAS had and has no mandate or mis- 
sion to perform systematic intelligence and espionage in friendly countries, 
and so lacks the resources to gather and evaluate the large amounts of informa- 
tion required on political forces, corruption, connections, and so on. More- 
over, there is no sign that the Embassy understood events after the fact, or 
saw the connection between what we did and what the Vietnamese did next. 
It appears that the U.S. had few people experienced at maneuvering and ma- 
nipulating among oriental politicians. 

In the following cases the Embassy was in the dark. ( 1 ) We had no informa- 
tion on the degree of truth of Khanh's charges against the four "pro-neutral- 
ist" generals plus Minh, and we knew about his coup a day in advance only 
because he sounded us out on it. (2) During the months of maneuvering be- 
tween Khanh and Minh after the coup, we had no way to evaluate the coup ru- 
mors that always went around, and that peaked around moments of crisis like 
the trial of the four generals in May. (3) Khanh's complaints of Vietnamese 
war-weariness starting in late May, in retrospect a transparent tactic to pres- 
sure the U.S. to bomb North, took in the USG completely; we eagerly went 

US-GVN Relations 281 

ahead and planned to bomb "to improve their unity and resolve." (4) 
Khanh's defiant leaks on cross-border operations in July surprised and per- 
plexed the Embassy; Taylor described them as an attempt to improve his own 
people's morale, not as an attempt to stampede us. (5) When Khanh asked 
for our public endorsement and then talked about "reorganization," we failed 
to see the connection. When he tried to reorganize Minh out of the govern- 
ment, Taylor made no move to save Minh until after street rioting had broken 
up the whole plan. (6) The September 13 coup attempt surprised everybody. 
(7) The HNC decision to make Suu President and Huong Prime Minister sur- 
prised and angered us. (8) Taylor's December plan to strengthen GVN by lec- 
turing to it about its failures provoked a completely unexpected reaction; both 
Buddhists and the military turned against the GVN. Taylor's subsequent stern 
lecture to the Young Turks likewise produced the opposite of the desired re- 
sult. (9) The generals' January, 1965, moves to renege on the agreed crisis 
settlement and to dismiss Huong surprised us. (10) The February 19 coup at- 
tempt surprised everybody. (11) We did not know what to think of the alleged 
coup attempt in May, 1965. 

In some noteworthy cases we did better. (1) Taylor correctly foresaw that 
Khanh's August constitution would cause trouble. (2) Westmoreland detected 
Ky's budding coup attempt in November and, with Embassy authority, 
squelched it. (3) Taylor foresaw (and tacitly accepted) the Ky coup. 

The MACV Role 

The MACV organization played an important, mostly hidden, role in US/ 
GVN relations. At every level from Saigon to the districts, the advisory struc- 
ture was the most pervasive instrument of intergovernmental contact. ARVN 
officers were accustomed to being spoon-fed military advice; so when military 
dominance of GVN brought these same officers to high positions in govern- 
ment, the advisor relationship conferred a latent diplomatic role upon MACV. 
Advisors were used as channels of communications on political matters and be- 
came the most reliable sources of information on impending coups. (On oc- 
casions such as the Rhade uprising and Ky's first attempt at a coup, senior 
MACV officers openly became diplomatic emissaries.) 

We have less record than we would like of COMUSMACV's influence. He 
reported regularly to his military seniors only on strictly military matters. De- 
tailed reports of his routine, daily dealings with counterparts were not re- 
quired of MACV as they were of the Embassy. 

From time to time COMUSMACV revealed his own independent objec- 
tives. He sought protection of the ARVN officer corps from political machina- 
tions and from unfavorable press stories in order to preserve their solidarity 
and morale; he pressed zealously for early introduction of U.S. ground forces 
and for their rapid build-up; he opposed encadrement and combined command 
with ARVN; he resisted exclusion of the military from pacification; he re- 
jected sanctions against ARVN; he objected to the initial constraints on the 
use of American forces and wanted to be free to operate independently of 

General Westmoreland's strong position usually assured that his view pre- 
vailed. Extension of advisors, increased MAP resources, and the introduction 
of U.S. ground forces enhanced his relative position. His freedom from detailed 
reporting of daily contacts was itself an element of strength. When he re- 
ceived unwanted advice and directives, he set up studies (as in the Civic Ac- 
tion Program) to stall for time; when he lacked authority to operate freely, 

282 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

he planned ahead with the Vietnamese (as in the use of U.S. forces for inde- 
pendent offensive operations) and then presented the matter to Washington as 
a virtual fait accompli. 

Vietnamese Non-Performance and Sensitivity 

Throughout this period the GVN failed to perform in almost every construc- 
tive respect. Pacification lagged, when not visibly retreating, even though the 
GVN was always willing to issue decrees, set up organizations we suggested, and 
so on. Khanh's promise to mobilize came to nothing. The VC defeated ARVN 
in bigger and bigger battles, until the military assessment of the situation per- 
mitted Westmoreland to call for over 200,000 U.S. troops. 

Moreover, on issues purportedly relating to sovereignty or "face," the Viet- 
namese were and are quite sensitive, and the U.S. was consistently afraid to in- 
flame this sensitivity. Both sides avoided many delicate topics. A prime example 
is the matter of the lack of a bilateral treaty. The U.S. operated, and 
still operates, under a Pentalateral protocol signed by the French and Bao Dai 
under the U.S. military assistance program to France before 1954. It gave U.S. 
advisers and officials virtual diplomatic status, which was reasonable back when 
there were less than two hundred of them in all Indochina. But it now applies 
to all U.S. personnel, and no one has wanted to stir things up. 

The sensitivity problem cropped up often. For a time early in 1964, the GVN 
backed off from an agreement to extend U.S. advisors to district level, and when 
the GVN did approve, they insisted that the advice be strictly military and that 
the advisors be labelled "subsector." In like manner, the III Marine Expedi- 
tionary Force became the III Marine Amphibious Force, because the French 
had called their Indochina force "expeditionary." But the GVN, and especially 
the military, agreed readily to new U.S. troop commitments. 

The Vietnamese would often greet a U.S. representative, in moments of ten- 
sion, with false or exaggerated stories of U.S. dealings, such as a complaint in 
January, 1964, about U.S. training and CIA contacts with the Cao Dai and Hoa 
Hao. In contrast, on cabinet appointments they often asked the Ambassador's 
opinion, and he customarily leaned over backward to avoid giving specific 
recommendations. Shared sensitivity, closely related to the lack of a treaty 
governing status of U.S. forces, prevented any move toward joint command 
and U.S. control of all military operations in Vietnam; both Westmoreland and 
the Vietnamese preferred to operate separately. The Embassy looked the other 
way from repressive police measures and political arrests unless these led to 
embarrassing press stories. When the Ambassador would raise this type of issue 
with the GVN, it proved always to be touchy. 

Vietnamese sensitivity sometimes led to open displays of anti-Americanism. 
These happened on three main occasions: (1) when Khanh grumbled about 
being a puppet after the go-North leaks in July, 1964; (2) in the open rupture 
between Khanh and Taylor in December-January; and (3) in the January riots 
when rioters overran USIS buildings in Saigon and Hue. 

Vietnamese Compliance More in Form Than in Substance 

The Vietnamese nevertheless showed a ready willingness throughout the 
period to declare new policies, sign decrees, and engage in joint studies at our 
request. But as noted above, that did not mean we got the substance of what we 
wanted on such matters. The most important case of this kind was Khanh's 

US-GVN Relations 283 

ready agreement in March to "mobilize" South Vietnam. He promptly made a 
token announcement; and while students and other potential draft-eligibles 
waited anxiously to learn what he meant (as did we, he delayed several weeks 
before any further announcement. Starting in May, he began announcing 
specifics and signing decrees, and kept the idea live for several months. However, 
strength of the RVNAF rose less in 1964 than it did in 1963*, and the talk of 
non-military mobilization came to nothing. 

The military and the more militant civilians, on whom the U.S. counted most 
heavily and regularly supported, turned out to have far more enthusiasm for 
going North and for other external adventures than they did for getting on with 
the job of effective government and pacification. They promised much on this 
latter score, but could not or would not deliver. Knowing that we had no one 
else to turn to, they continued their old habits and often openly did what they 
pleased about important matters. The go-North problem was particularly 
troublesome because the militants rejected the permanent division of Vietnam 
at the 17th parallel, upheld in practice by the U.S. 

The following are interesting instances, among many, of their superficial 
compliance. They agreed readily to use U.S advisers at the ministerial level (the 
brain trust), although there is no sign that the brain-trusters accomplished any- 
thing. Indeed, on all ten suggestions that accompanied President Johnson's 1964 
New Year's Message to Minh, only the one on amnesty found them hesitant to 
express their full agreement. They regularly agreed on budgetary limits to keep 
inflation from getting out of hand, but never satisfied us on specifics through 
1964 or the first half of 1965. They repeatedly agreed to relieve ineffective, cor- 
rupt commanders and officials, but delayed endlessly on doing it and generally 
promoted those whom they relieved. At Westmoreland's request, Khanh created 
the Hop Tac plan for pacification around Saigon; but it foundered, and 
eventually the Vietnamese killed it. When Lodge left Vietnam in June, 1964, 
he sealed his tour with a general agreement with Khanh on concept, scope, 
and organization of the pacification efforts; obtaining such agreements presented 
absolutely no problem. In December, 1964, the JGS issued a directive contain- 
ing every MACV suggestion on how RVNAF should help pacification. 

In July, 1964, Khanh created a National Security Council similar to ours, 
and it met regularly with the top group of Embassy people to talk agreeably 
about pacification and manpower problems. MACV set up joint inspection teams 
and joint studies with JGS people several times a year. The only thing of this 
class that had any visible follow-through was the joint planning group on bomb- 
ing North and on other cross-border operations. Two battalions specifically 
declared ineffective by MACV suffered no penalty or improvement. 

The militants' predilection for external adventures began to show in May, 
1964, after the Embassy started pressing Khanh about his March agreements 

* The end-year figures are as follows : 

South Vietnam 

Infantry-type Battalions 

RVNAF Strength ('000) 

Total Armed Strength ('000) 
(Included CIDG, police, etc.) 













Source: OSD SEA Statistical Summary, Tables 1 and 2. 

284 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

with McNamara. Khanh responded within a few days by saying he wanted to 
declare war, bomb the North with U.S. participation, bring 10,000 U.S. Army 
Special Forces troops into South Vietnam, "get rid of the politicians," and put 
Saigon strictly on a war footing. Lodge tried to cool him off, but Khanh brought 
up a less extreme version again with Rusk at the end of the month, saying that 
his government could not win without action outside South Vietnam. When 
Lodge returned from the Honolulu Conference in early June, Khanh responded 
to discussions of ARVN strength by trying to draw Lodge out on actions against 
the North. Then, when we did not move fast enough to suit him and Ky, they 
started a press campaign on the subject, and pressed Taylor more insistently. 
Finally, in December, when Taylor told GVN all the many ways they should 
improve to justify further U.S. involvement, their immediate reply included the 
comment that the U.S. program said nothing about Viet Cong use of Cambodia. 

The press leaks about going North were the first major instance of their 
defiantly going ahead as they pleased against our wishes. Khanh's August con- 
stitution was a less flagrant case, because Taylor's words of caution were 
comparatively diffident. (Moreover, in the following August-September tur- 
bulence, Khanh let himself become clearly dependent on the Embassy when he 
talked to the Buddhist leaders.) In the December crisis the Young Turks defied 
Taylor at every turn following their dissolution of the HNC; and after a tem- 
porary agreement in January double-crossed Taylor, dismissed Huong, and took 
control of the formation of a new government. They guessed correctly that we 
saw no choice but to go along. 

JUNE 1965— FALL 1967 

By the summer of 1965, the war in Vietnam had dramatically changed its 
complexion from the previous two years. More and more, with U.S. combat 
forces pouring into SVN and Rolling Thunder underway, it looked like the U.S. 
against the DRV. The war was no longer being fought with U.S. advice and aid 
alone; there was now a massive U.S. presence. While official documents still 
repeated the credo that it was, in the last analysis, a struggle for the GVN to win 
or lose, the focus of U.S. concern shifted. As the U.S. role increased and then 
predominated, the need for GVN effectiveness in the now and short-run re- 
ceived less attention. The U.S. would take care of the war now — defeat the 
enemy main forces and destroy Hanoi's will to persist — then, the GVN could 
and would reform and resuscitate itself. Only after the immediate security 
threat to the GVN was blunted and forced to subside did we expect our South 
Vietnamese ally to improve its performance on all fronts. Until then and in 
order to get to that point, the U.S. would concentrate on what it could do. 

This view — a massive U.S. effort in the short-run leading to and enabling a 
GVN effort in the long-run — set the tone and content of U.S.-GVN relations. 
In policy terms, it meant caution in the use of U.S. leverage. There seemed to 
be no compelling requirement to be tough with Saigon; it would only prematurely 
rock the boat. To press for efficiency would be likely, it was reasoned, to generate 
instability. Our objective became simple: if we could not expect more GVN ef- 
ficiency, we could at least get a more stable and legitimate GVN. Nation-building 
was the key phrase. This required a constitution and free elections. Moreover, 
if we could not have the reality, we would start with appearances. U.S. influence 
was successfully directed at developing a democratic GVN in form. Beginning 
in September 1966, a series of free elections were held, first for a Constituent 
Assembly and later for village officials, the Presidency, House and Senate. 

U.S.-GVN relations from June of 1965 to 1968, then, have to be understood 

US-GVN Relations 285 

in terms of the new parameters of the war. Before this date, our overriding ob- 
jective had to be and was governmental stability. After the Diem coup, the GVN 
underwent six changes in leadership in the space of one and a half years. From 
June 1965 on, there was relative stability. Ky and Thieu, while challenged, 
proved strong enough to keep their power and position. In putting down the 
Struggle Movement (following General Thi's dismissal by Ky) in the first half 
of 1966, and then delivering on the September, 1966 election, GVN effectively 
discredited the militant Buddhist leadership and for the time being ended its 
threat to political stablility. Concern about possible neutralism or anarchy, which 
had been important in U.S. thinking in 1964 and early 1965, subsided accordingly. 
The uneasy agreement between Thieu and Ky to run on the same ticket, result- 
ing partly from U.S. pressure for military unity, and the subsequent transition 
to legitimacy, gave the U.S. a sense of relief and satisfaction, although no one 
suggested that GVN had yet built a broad political base or had solved its effec- 
tiveness problems. This GVN stability made possible the increased attention to 
pacification and nation-building. 

The pacification parameter had changed as well. From 1961 to June of 1965, 
the U.S. flooded SVN with the advisory resources of men and money to keep 
the GVN afloat and RVNAF fighting. This input lacked a clear plan. After June 
1965, we made a concerted effort to organize pacification. We exacted an agree- 
ment from the GVN in the fall of 1966 to shift half of its ground forces into 
pacification — although U.S. forces carried a share of this burden and attempted 
to show RVNAF how to do it. We tried to centralize pacification programs by 
creating a new GVN structure to control and allocate resources. This was made 
manifest by the establishment of a separate Ministry for Revolutionary Develop- 
ment. U.S. moves by stages to the unified civil-military CORDS organization 
in Vietnam paralleled this super-ministry for pacification. And, pacification 
statistics showed steady increase of GVN control in the countryside, reversing 
the downward trend of previous years — but, U.S. dissatisfaction with GVN 
performance also increased nonetheless. 

Beyond and more important than ail this were the U.S. efforts themselves. 
By the close of 1965, 170,000 U.S. combat forces were in SVN. By the end of 
1967, this figure was almost half a million. By mid- 1965, U.S. air strikes against 
North Vietnam had extended in geographic coverage up to 20°30 / , and ap- 
proved targets had widened beyond LOC's. Total sorties rose to about 900 per 
week. By 1968, we were bombing throughout the North, with very few though 
important targets still being prohibited. Total sorties per week reached about 

It was in this context that U.S. -GVN relations took shape. 

Having suffered several backfires in the attempts to require or encourage GVN 
effectiveness in 1964, the Embassy and Washington generally preferred to let 
well enough alone in 1965 through 1967. The U.S. limited itself to only a few 
demands, and usually avoided direct confrontations at the top levels of gov- 
ernment-to-government contact. 

The U.S. had one repetition of its old backfire problem following the Hono- 
lulu Conference of February 1966. President Johnson embraced Ky publicly and 
endorsed his government; Ky then felt strong enough to move against General 
Thi, who had been making trouble generally and was almost openly waiting for 
his chance to take over the GVN. Ky eventually succeeded in removing Thi 
and getting him out of the country, but at the cost of returning to a degree of 

286 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

chaos in May that was in some ways worse than any suffered in 1964 under 
Khanh. At the height of the crisis, the U.S. went so far as to use force and the 
threat of force against both sides to keep the confrontation between GVN and 
the Struggle Movement within bounds. There was no sign of ill effects from 
our boldness in this instance. 

Whatever interest there was in putting pressure on the top levels of GVN 
was stronger in Washington than in the Embassy, and stronger in the Embassy 
than in MACV, as it had been in the past. But the past failures of such pressures 
made everyone gunshy. At one point, Washington felt so strongly about the high 
GVN dollar balances that it sent out its own representative to negotiate with 
GVN, and he freely threatened to cut down U.S. dollar aid. However, neither 
Washington nor the Embassy suggested doing anything so drastic as holding 
up aid payments and projects until a satisfactory agreement could be reached. 
Confident that the threats were empty, GVN dug in its heels and gave us noth- 
ing but more promises. 

Although the U.S. played down pressure or leverage on the top level of GVN, 
the idea of leverage at lower levels enjoyed a resurgence. Interest in the subject 
reached a low point in June 1965, when we abandoned the "troika signoff," 
which had given U.S. province representatives veto control over the use of AID 
direct-support commodities. For four months starting October 1, 1965, MACV 
experimented with giving its sector advisors a petty cash fund for urgent projects; 
however, MACV then dropped the idea. In April 1966, Lodge urged restora- 
tion of these types of leverage, and the idea kept coming up thereafter. Two 
major studies, one in Saigon in 1966 and one in Washington in 1967, came 
down strongly for regular procedures to use our material support to put pres- 
sure on lower echelons of GVN. They particularly emphasized signoff systems 
and the like, including U.S. distribution of MAP support within Vietnam. But 
the fear that such methods would prove counter-productive, either by provok- 
ing resistance or by making Vietnamese officials more dependent on our people 
and less able to perform on their own, prevented adoption of the proposals. 

In at least three instances, AID cut off its support to a province in order to 
pressure the province chief. In September 1965, AID accused the province chief 
of Binh Tuy of misuse of AID funds, and had to withdraw its personnel from 
the province and cut off support to it after threats on their lives. The incident 
got into the papers and embarrassed both GVN and the Embassy; after several 
weeks GVN moved the accused officer to another job, and AID resumed its 
program in the province. In June 1966, AID cut off shipments to Kontum prov- 
ince for four days to force the province chief to account for the end uses of AID 
commodities. In August 1967, CORDS cut off shipments to Bien Hoa province 
for eleven weeks for similar reasons. 

In contrast, MACV scrupulously avoided withholding MAP support from 
military units, regardless of circumstances. The single case of record of taking 
away MAP support involved two fishing boats owned by the Vietnam Navy 
that were found ineligible for such support. In his reaction to the PROVN Re- 
port in May 1966, in his directives to advisers around the time of the Chinh- 
Hunnicutt affair in the fall of 1966, and in his reaction to Washington inquiries 
in May 1967, COMUSMACV consistently brushed aside criticism of ARVN 
and told both his superiors and his subordinates to lay off. Whatever interest in 
leverage there was at lower levels in the field received no backing from 
COMUSMACV. In March 1966, a decision to transfer MAP for Vietnam to 
service funding had no effect on leverage because MACV continued to put 
material support in Vietnamese hands as soon as it entered the country. 

US-GVN Relations 287 

Although AID tried some leverage in this period, and although the Ambas- 
sador, the Mission, and officials tuned to U.S. domestic pressures urged U.S. 
leverage for GVN reforms, there is still no documented study of GVN's failures, 
of the reasons for it, and of the ways that leverage of different types might help 
improve GVN permanently. The basic problem of concern is GVN's overall 
failure to do its civil and military jobs. Leverage in the hands of U.S. personnel 
might assure that GVN would do particular things we want; but we have no in- 
formation on what kind of leverage, if any, would reform GVN. From 1964 
onwards, high U.S. officials, including McGeorge Bundy and Secretary Mc- 
Namara, have said at one time and another that thorough reform of GVN is 
necessary; but no one has found or even seriously proposed a way to do 
it. Encadrement proposals, prominent before June 1965, still received occasional 
mention; but these proposed to make up for GVN's deficiencies by substituting 
U.S. control for GVN control, and do not purport to reform GVN itself. If this 
problem has a solution, we have yet to find it. 

The Embassy's Lack of Political Contact 

The turbulent events of 1964 and early 1965 had shown that the Embassy 
had no effective system, either through overt or covert contacts, for finding out 
what was going on. Nothing was done subsequently to correct this problem. CAS 
people talked to a few official contacts, who told them things the Vietnamese 
wanted the U.S. to believe; but the CIA had and has no mandate or mission to 
perform systematic intelligence and espionage in friendly countries, and so lacks 
the resources to gather and evaluate the large amounts of information required 
on political forces, corruption, connections, and so on. 

General Thi began sounding out his U.S. contacts on whether the U.S. ap- 
preciated his superior qualities as a potential leader of Vietnam as early as 
August 1965; and in other ways we had plenty of warning that there would be 
trouble. However, we showed no feel for cause and effect. President Johnson's 
embrace of Ky at Honolulu in February, 1966, could only have had a divisive 
effect when Ky commanded so little solid support within his own country. On 
the one hand, civilians and the military had fluoted U.S. wishes so often in 
the past that express U.S. support scarcely counted for much; but on the other 
hand Ky's weakness and Thi's known ambitions tempted Ky to get whatever mile- 
age he could out of our support. In the subsequent turbulence, all parties 
again flouted U.S. wishes freely, stopping short only when the U.S. used force and 
the credible threat of force to oppose them. The maneuverings of the various 
political groups seemed to surprise the Embassy repeatedly. The same problems 
arose in the GVN cabinet split and crisis just before the Manila Conference in 
October 1966. The blandly naive language of the "Blueprint for Vietnam" in 
late 1967, unmodified by any back channel elaboration, offered no hope of any 
foreseeable improvement. 

The MACV Role 

The MACV organization played an important, mostly hidden, role in U.S.- 
GVN relations. At every level from Saigon to the districts, the advisory structure 
was the most pervasive instrument of intergovernmental contact. ARVN of- 
ficers were accustomed to being spoon-fed military advice; so when military dom- 
inance of GVN brought these same officers to high positions in government, 
the advisor relationship conferred a latent diplomatic role upon MACV. Ad- 

288 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

visors were used as channels of communications on political and pacification 
matters. (On occasions such as the attempts to get Thi to meet Ky or to leave 
the country, senior MACV officers openly became diplomatic emissaries.) 

We have less record than we would like of COMUSMACV's influence. He 
reported regularly to his military seniors only on strictly military matters. 
Detailed reports of his routine, daily dealings with counterparts were not re- 
quired of MACV as they were of the Embassy. 

From time to time, COMUSMACV revealed his own independent objectives. 
He sought protection of the ARVN officer corps from unfavorable press stories 
in order to preserve their solidarity and morale; he pressed zealously for the 
rapid build-up of U.S. ground forces; he opposed encadrement and combined 
command with ARVN; he rejected sanctions against ARVN; he objected to the 
initial constraints on the use of American forces and wanted to be free 
to operate independently of ARVN. 

General Westmoreland's strong position usually assured that his view pre- 
vailed. Extension of advisors, increased MAP resources, and the build-up of U.S. 
ground forces enhanced his relative position. By October 1966, MACV had 
numerical superiority of forces over Regular RVNAF; by late 1967, MACV 
had over 400 square miles of bases. His freedom from detailed reporting of daily 
contacts was itself an element of strength. When he received unwanted advice 
and directives, he set up studies, and, after a time, proceeded as usual. This 
tendency was most notable in the case of leverage, already noted, and combined 
command. Likewise, MACV successfully resisted taking over the bulk of Saigon 
Port operations, despite pressure from Washington, and delayed for about a 
year the move to take division commanders out of the pacification chain of com- 
mand. Another instance of MACV independence showed up when Rusk and 
Lodge wanted to keep U.S. men and equipment out of the confrontation be- 
tween GVN and the Struggle Movement in I Corps, but they failed to tell 
MACV about it. On April 5, MACV went ahead and airlifted two battalions of 
Vietnamese Rangers to Danang; after that Lodge put a stop to it. 

Vietnamese Non-Performance and Sensitivity 

Although population control statistics began to improve in 1966 and continued 
to do so in the first half of 1967, and although this seemed partly associated with 
the creation of the Ministry of Revolutionary Development and with the em- 
phasis on its programs, few suggested that this progress could be held if U.S. 
forces withdrew. The drumbeat of criticism from field personnel, and the doc- 
umented cases of non-performance on high-level matters, made it clear that 
there was no real improvement in GVN performance. Corruption and inaction 
showed no signs of improvement; province chiefs and military commanders 
singled out by U.S. advisers as urgently needing removal were simply shuffled 
around, if moved at all, and often promoted. Increasing traffic in the Port of 
Saigon led to acute congestion problems, which GVN failed to clear up or 
materially improve. 

Moreover, on issues purportedly relating to sovereignty or "face," the Viet- 
namese continued to be quite sensitive, and the U.S. was afraid to inflame this 
sensitivity. Both sides avoided many delicate topics. A prime example is the lack 
of a bilateral treaty. The U.S. presence has always been based on the 
Pentalateral Protocol of 1950, signed by France, the Bao Dai government, Laos, 
Cambodia and the U.S., which gave U.S. advisers and officials virtual diplomatic 
status — an arrangement reasonable back when there were less than two hundred 

US-GVN Relations 289 

of them in all Indochina, but of dubious applicability to the hundreds of thousands 
now there. This matter has cropped up from time to time, as in the case of 
American civilians being tried for currency violations in Vietnamese courts, 
where they were subject to extortion. Both governments cooperated in smooth- 
ing things over after a momentary disagreement over jurisdiction, and have 
avoided stirring things up. 

Shared sensitivity (and legitimate concern for an independent RVNAF role), 
closely related to the lack of a bilateral treaty, prevented any move toward joint 
command and U.S. control of all military operations in Vietnam. Both West- 
moreland and the Vietnamese preferred to operate either separately or in loosely 
coordinated joint operations. The Embassy looked the other way from repres- 
sive police measures and political arrests unless these led to embarrassing press 
stories; and when the Ambassador would raise this type of issue with the GVN, 
it proved always to be touchy. Especially under Lodge, the Embassy tried to pro- 
tect GVN from the press and to help it build a favorable image. 

Vietnamese sensitivity sometimes led to open displays of anti-Americanism. 
These displays reached a climax in the Struggle Movement crisis in the first 
half of 1966, when the Buddhists openly accused the U.S. of helping GVN crush 
them, and they sacked and burned the U.S. Consulate in Hue. Moreover, news- 
papers reflecting officials views would occasionally publish stories expressing 
fear of a U.S. sellout in negotiations, anger at U.S. intervention in Vietnamese 
affairs (as happened during the Chinh-Hunnicutt affair), and other anti- 
American themes. 

Vietnamese Compliance More in Form Than in Substance 

The Vietnamese, nevertheless, showed a ready willingness to declare new 
policies, sign decrees, and engage in joint studies at our request. But as noted, that 
scarcely means that we got what we wanted on such matters. Ky was always will- 
ing to issue decrees purporting to clear up the port problem, and to make public 
declarations against corruption. On economic policy, Ky and Hanh gave us one 
agreement after another promising to control inflation and to run down their 
dollar balances. The relations of their military with MACV showed the same 

The Vietnamese military, on whom the U.S. counted most heavily, continued 
as in earlier periods to have far more enthusiasm for external adventures than 
they did for getting on with the job of effective government and pacification. 
They promised much on this latter score, but delivered little. Knowing that we 
had no one else to turn to, they continued their old habits and often openly did 
what they pleased about important matters, such as the airlift of troops 
to Danang in May, 1966. 

Examples of superficial compliance are almost too numerous to mention. The 
Honolulu Conference of February 1966, produced over sixty agreed points be- 
tween the two governments on all areas of mutual interest; getting any follow-up 
proved to be like pulling teeth, and then the follow-up we got was nothing more 
as a rule than more promises. Likewise, at the Manila Conference much the 
same thing happened, where GVN agreed to programs for social revolution, 
economic progress, and so on. However, at our insistence they did go ahead with 
the constitution and elections, and they shifted half of ARVN into pacification. 
How much substantive improvement these moves will produce still remains to 
be seen. 

GVN taste for foreign adventure showed up in small, irritating ways. In July 

290 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

1965, Thi planned unauthorized operations in the DMZ, but we stopped him. 
In 1967, we discovered that GVN had brought in Chinese Nationalists disguised 
as Nungs, to engage in operations in Laos; also, they sent a group to put an air- 
field on an island 170 miles south of Hainan, apparently without consulting 


Increasingly throughout 1967, GVN legitimacy and performance became a 
domestic political issue in the U.S. as well as a source of concern for policy- 
makers. No matter what issue was raised, the central importance of the GVN 
remained. If we wanted to pacify more, we had to turn to the Vietnamese them- 
selves. If we desired to push for a negotiated settlement, we had to seriously weigh 
the possibilities of SVN collapse. In the last analysis, it was and is a war which 
only GVN legitimacy and effectiveness can win. 

End of Summary and Analysis 


1 Jan 64 State to Saigon 1000 30 Dec 63 

President's New Year's message to Minh contains reassurance; 
advice also rendered. Brain trust approved. 

10 Jan 64 Lodge to State 1287 10 Jan 

Lodge and Minh discuss President's advice agree they're doing fine 
except on anmesty. GVN backs away from previously agreed ex- 
tension of advisors to districts. 

30 Jan 64 Saigon to State 1433 30 Jan 

Khanh seizes power, arrests four top generals of MRC, but lets 
Minh continue as President at USG urging. 

13 Feb 64 Memorandum to Secretary of State 

Rostow recommends enforcing NVN compliance with 1962 
Geneva agreement. 

21 Feb 64 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC Feb 64 

GVN accepts advisors in 13 districts of the Delta. 

21 Feb 64 Saigon to AID 2334 21 Feb 

GVN asks USG for rice standby commitment, for the first time. 

8 Mar 64 SD PM 16 Mar Sec. Ill; and Memorandum of Conversation at 
JGS Hqtrs. 12 Mar 

Secretary McNamara arrives in Saigon for several days of talks, 
including talks with GVN. Goes away pessimistic, recommends 
more AID and larger RVNAF, plus unqualified backing for 
Khanh. Khanh promises mobilization. 

17 Mar 64 N SAM 288 

President approves Secretary of Defense recommendations, directs 
their execution. 

20 Mar 64 

White House Press Release 

White House announces Khanh's mobilization plan. 

US-GVN Relations 291 

4 Apr 64 State to Saigon 1602 4 Apr 

Mobilization decree, dissolution of Council of Notables, promise 
of eventual Constituent Assembly and civil government. 

10 Apr 64 Saigon to State 1964 11 Apr 

Beginning of AID and related economic negotiations for fiscal 

29 Apr 64 Saigon to State 2089 30 Apr 

Khanh renews request for brain trust; Lodge euphoric. 

30 Apr 64 Saigon to State 2091 30 Apr 

USOM and GVN badger each other on pacification and economic 

4 May 64 Saigon to State 21084 May 

Khanh wants to bomb NVN, have 10,000 US troops, and set up 
all-military government in SVN. Lodge says no, no, yes. 

13 May 64 Saigon to State 2203 14 May 

McNamara sees Khanh in Saigon; they reach agreement on desira- 
bility of progress. 

13-27 May Saigon to State DTG 271200Z May 

64 Forrestal of White House staff "negotiates" AID with GVN, gives 

GVN AID increases. 

25 May 64 Memorandum to President 

McGeorge Bundy recommends force against NVN as the only 
path to success. 

27 May 64 State to Saigon 1251 18 Feb. 

Sullivan distributes proposal for semi-encadrement of GVN as a 
necessary step for progress. 

28-29 May Saigon to State 2332 and 2338 28 May 

64 MRC censures four "neutralist plot" generals that had been ar- 

rested in Khanh coup. Keeps Minh, as urged by Lodge. 

30 May 64 CINCPAC to State 37 2 Jun 

Rusk sees Khanh, leaves nothing to the imagination on possible 
US all-the-way commitment, stresses need for GVN unity. 

2-3 Jun 64 Memo for the Record, Special Meeting on SE Asia. CINCPAC 
000211 DTG 8 Jun and Memo for Secretary {State) "Highlights 
of Honolulu Conference" from W. P. Bundy DTG 3 Jun 
Honolulu Conference. Conferees (include Rusk, McNamara, 
Lodge, Taylor and Westmoreland) agree on increased advisory 
effort, agree to refine plans for pressures on NVN. 

4 Jun 64 Saigon to State 2405 4 Jun 

Lodge hints to Khanh that USG will prepare US public opinion 
for actions against NVN. 

29 Jun 64 COMUSMACV Command History 1964, p. 69 

AID sets up sector adviser fund, with troika signoff to bypass 

292 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

30 Jun 64 COMUSMA CV 01 1 057 Z Jul 

US and GVN agree to joint planning for cross-border operations 
in Laos. 

8 Jul 64 Saigon to State 56 8 Jul 

Ambassador Taylor presents his credentials to Khanh. 

9 Jul 64 Saigon to State 65 9 Jul 

Ambassador Taylor hears the complaints of civilian cabinet mem- 

1 7 Jul 64 Saigon to State 124 1 7 Jul 

USOM starts periodic meetings with GVN's National Security 

19 Jul 64 Saigon to State 185 23 Jul 

Khanh and Ky lobby publicly for cross-border operations and air 
strikes into Laos and NVN. 

23 Jul 64 Saigon to State 185 23 Jul 

Khanh presses Taylor for action, keeps up the lobbying. 

24 Jul 64 Saigon to State 203 24 Jul 

Khanh asks Taylor if he (Khanh) should resign; Taylor says no. 
Khanh asks for publicly stated US backing and gets it. 

25 Jul 64 Saigon to State 232 27 Jul 

Khanh promises to quit lobbying, reacts favorably to proposed 
joint planning for air strikes on NVN, and says he plans GVN 

2-4 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, p. 269 

Gulf of Tonkin incidents, US retaliation. 

7 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, p. 270 

Khanh proclaims state of emergency, with press censorship. 

8 Aug 64 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC DTG 080715Z Aug 

Westy and Khanh discuss joint planning, agree not to discuss com- 
bined command. 

12 Aug 64 Saigon to State 393 12 Aug 

Khanh's "reorganization" is a new constitution with military 
openly on top, and with Khanh President. Taylor sceptical, coun- 
sels caution. 

16 Aug 64 Saigon to State 415 15 Aug 

Khanh gets MRC approval of constitution after hurried USOM 
drafting assistance. 

18 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 270-71 

Ambassador Taylor firmly recommends plans for gradual pressures 
North to start 1 January contingent on improved GVN per- 
formance, or not contingent if things get bad enough. Suggests the 
package include Marines at Danang. 

21-27 Aug Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 272-74 

64 Student demonstrations followed by general rioting. 

US-GVN Relations 293 

24 Aug 64 Saigon to State 542 24 Aug 

Taylor advises Khanh to move fast on new cabinet. 

25 Aug 64 S hapten, Lost Revolution, pp. 274-75 

One o'clock A.M. Taylor advises Khanh to make some concessions 
but keep constitution. Khanh does and riots continue. Khanh 
"resigns." Riots continue. 

27 Aug 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 275-78 

MRC revokes constitution, keeps Khanh now as member of tem- 
porary triumvirate (including Minh and Khiem). New HNC to be 

29 Aug 64 State to Saigon 555 29 Aug 

Paratroopers with bayonets restore order in Saigon. 

6 Sep 64 Saigon to State 785 8 Sep 

Taylor takes off on a trip to Washington. Recommends pressures 
on NVN to begin 1 December. 

10 Sep 64 NSAM 314 10 Sep 

Says strengthen GVN. 

13 Sep 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 287-290; Saigon to State 836 13 
Sep; Saigon to State 878 1 6 Sep 

Abortive coup attempt temporarily captures Saigon. Ky and Thieu 
back Khanh, defeat coup forces. 

20 Sep 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, p. 290; Saigon to State 923 22 Sep; 936 
23 Sep 937, 952, and 954 24 Sep; 985 29 Sep; and 1046 7 Oct. 
Rhade tribesmen in 4 CIDG camps rebel against GVN. 

24 Sep 64 Saigon to State 938 24 Sep 

The new HNC begins deliberations to write a constitution. 

30 Sep 64 N Y Times A r tides 

W. Bundy predicts publicly that bombing NVN would cut down 
the threat to GVN in a matter of months. 

27 Oct 64. Saigon to State 1292 27 Oct; State to Saigon 944 29 Oct. Shaplen 
Lost Revolution, pp. 290-9 

HNC finishes on time, surprises by naming Suu President, not 

30 Oct 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, p. 293; State to Saigon 978 1 Nov; 

CINCPAC to JCS DTG 020400Z Nov; Saigon to State 1382 2 

Mortar attack on Bien Hoa airbase. State rejects Taylor's recom- 
mendation of immediate reprisal raid on NVN. 

11 Nov 64 Saigon to State 1452 and 1460 10 Nov 

MRC publishes military reorganization without MACV review; 
MACV protests and MRC withdraws it for changes. 

26 Nov 64 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC DTG 0260945Z Nov 

Westmoreland slaps Ky down just before apparent coup attempt. 
Taylor is in Washington. 

294 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

7 Dec 64 Embassy to State Air gram A-468 15 Dec 

Taylor, just back from Washington with fresh guidance, presents 
GVN with a candid statement of its failures and couples demands 
for progress in stated areas to promises of US escalation. 

8-20 Dec 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 294-95 

Student and Buddhist demonstrations against Huong government 
and growing crisis. 

20 Dec 64 Saigon to State 1869, 1870, and 1874 20 Dec; MACV to CINC- 

PAC rec'd NMCC 200816Z Dec 

Khanh and Generals disregard Taylor's protests, dissolve HNC and 
arrest opposition; "Young Turks" (Ky, Thieu, Thi and Cang) 
consolidate their dominance by creating a small Armed Forces 
Council (AFC) as the top governing body. Taylor reads them the 
riot act. 

21 Dec 64 Saigon to State 1881 21 Dec 

Taylor asks Khanh to resign and leave the country. 

23 Dec 64 Saigon to State 1914 23 Dec; 1929 and 1930 24 Dec 

Young Turks attack Taylor publicly, and privately seek his recall. 

24 Dec 64 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 295-97 

Taylor tells press that Khanh has outstayed his usefulness. 

25 Dec 64 COMUSMACV Command History 1965, p. 229 

Vietnamese JGS issues Directive A-B 139, at MACV request, on 
how RVNAF should be employed to improve pacification pro- 

7 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2081 7 Jan 2089 8 Jan 2102 9 Jan 

AFC Generals decide to give way by restoring civilian government 
under a new name (i.e. without HNC) leaving Suu-Huong combi- 
nation in. 

9 Jan 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 297-98 

With Taylor's reluctant concurrence, the AFC announces the 7 
January decision. 

11 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2112 and 2120 11 Jan 

US and GVN publicly patch up relations. Young Turks will enter 

12 Jan 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 298-99 

New demonstrations begin, demanding Huong's resignation. 

14 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2155 14 Jan 

Khanh shows Taylor a new cabinet list; Taylor tries to slow him 

18 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2176 18 Jan 

Khanh gives Taylor completed cabinet list and schedules installa- 
tion for the next day. 

19 Jan 65 COMUSMACV to C1NCPAC DTG 191235Z Jan 

Khanh tries to reassure Westmoreland on military repercussions of 
tying up some generals in the cabinet; then Khanh suddenly "post- 
pones" cabinet installation. 

US-GVN Relations 295 

19-24 Jan 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 298-99 

Buddhist demonstrations build up, including sacking of USIS build- 
ings in Saigon and Hue. Buddhist merchants respond to campaign 
to boycott Americans. Buddhists demand military take-over. 

25 Jan 65 Saigon to State 2276 and 2283 25 Jan 

Khanh tells Deputy Ambassador Alex Johnson that Huong and 
Suu want to resign and let the military take over. Johnson says no. 

27 Jan 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 299-302; Saigon to State 2322 27 
Jan; State to Saigon 1542 27 Jan and 1565 29 Jan 
AFC topples Suu-Huong government, openly puts Khanh back in 
charge. JCS approves COMUSMACV request to use US jet air- 
craft in a strike role in-country in emergencies, subject to Embassy 
approval in each instance. 

3-4 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2399 4 Feb 

McGeorge Bundy visits Saigon, has tea with Khanh and the 

7-72 Feb 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 305^6 State to Saigon 1438 6 Feb; 
Saigon to State 2426 7 Feb 2495 11 Feb 

Flaming Dart bombings in North Vietnam. All US dependents 
ordered to leave Vietnam. 

7 Feb 65 Memorandum to the President 

McGeorge Bundy says the military are the backbone of the coun- 
try, that the Buddhists should be constructive, and that Vietnam 
needs a social revolution. 

16 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2617 16 Feb 

After two false starts, AFC selects Quat to form a new cabinet. 

18 Feb 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 306-7 

Quat cabinet installed; Buddhists acquiesce. 

19 Feb 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 307-12 

New coup groups seizes Saigon, then bows to superior AFC force. 

20 Feb 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 307-12 

AFC votes Khanh out. 

24 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2685 20 Feb; 2698 22 Feb; 2720 23 Feb; 2731 
24 Feb; and COMUSMACV to CINCPAC DTG 241600Z Feb 
Khanh goes abroad; Rolling Thunder rolls. 

27 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2787 27 Feb 

USOM resumes action level meetings with GVN; both sides agreed 
to prepare proposals for accelerating pacification and to go forward 
together with effective execution. 

28 Feb 65 Saigon to State 2800 1 Mar 

State issues White Paper on Vietnam. 

6 Mar 65 COMUSMACV Command History, 1965, p. 132 

MACV gives budget guidelines to RVN Ministry of Defense. 

8 Mar 65 Saigon to State 2991 8 Mar 

Quat discusses sensitive combined-command issue with Taylor. 

296 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

8-9 Mar 65 Saigon to State 2908 1 Mar 

Two battalions of Marines land at Danang. 

24 Mar 65 Saigon to State 2065 24Mar 

Ambassador Taylor formulates a 41 -point program for stability 
and pacification. 

26 Mar 65 COMUSMACV Commander's Estimate of the Situation 26 Mar 

Westmoreland issues Commander's Estimate of the Situation, 
which treads lightly on combined-command issue. 

1-2 Apr 65 NSAM 328 6 Apr 

Taylor (in Washington) talks to President and NSC, who approve 
Taylor's 41 -point program and General Johnson's 21 recommenda- 

15 Apr 65 Saigon to State 3419 17 Apr 

Taylor objects to proposed Peers mission. 

15 Apr 65 DOD 9164 15 Apr 

The 7-point message from State/Defense tells Saigon to encadre 
RVNAF/GVN and to expect additional US forces, with new mis- 

17 Apr 65 Saigon to State 3421 , 3422 and 3423 17 Apr 

Taylor objects to 7-point message, and Westmoreland objects to 

19- 20 Apr 65 ASD McNaughton's Minutes of Honolulu Meeting 23 Apr 

Honolulu Conference meets to resolve disagreements on 7-point 
message. Conferees agree on force increase and medcap, scuttle 
encadrement, and agree on studies of combined command. 

5 May 65 Saigon to State 3097 and 3100 26 Mar; and 2140 31 Mar 
AFC dissolves itself. 

20- 21 May Saigon to State 3878 25 May 

65 Abortive coup attempt alleged by GVN, though not firmly con- 

firmed by US observers. 

May 22- Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 342-45 

12 June 65 Suu-Quat disagreement on cabinet changes. 

27 May 65 Joint State/ Defense 80466 27 May 

State/Defense message agrees to defer approaching GVN on com- 
bined command. 

12 Jun65 COMUSMACV MAC J-3, 19912 to CINCPAC DTG 120828Z 

Westmoreland presses for commitment of US forces to offensive 
operations, has already planned it hand-in-hand with our Viet- 
namese ally. 

12 Jun 65 Shaplen, Lost Revolution, pp. 345-46. Saigon to State 4065 4 
Jun, 4119 9 Jun, 4156 11 Jun, 4190 14 Jun, 4312 21 Jun 
Generals fire Suu and Quat, create National Leadership Council of 
ten Generals chaired by Thieu, and make Ky Prime Minister. 
Taylor reluctantly acquiesces to Ky's appointment. 

US-GVN Relations 297 

22 Jun 65 Memorandum from Vincent Puritano to James P. Grant 25 Sep 65, 
"Joint Provincial Sign-off Authority," with attachment 
Troika sign-off abandoned. 

1 Jul 65 SD PM 1 Jul 65 Sec 8B 

SecDef Memorandum to the President recommends more aid for 

1 Jul 65 Saigon to State 14,2 Jul 

Taylor writes a letter to Ky asking him to support constructive 
USOM/GVN consultations on economic matters and the port. 

8 Jul 65 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC DTG 080020Z Jul 

MACV and RVNAF agree on coordination and cooperation, and 
do not discuss combined command. 

20 Jul 65 SD PM 20 Jul para. 8B 

SecDef Memorandum to the President recommends U.S. veto on 
major GVN commanders and on GVN statements about going 

28 Jul 65 Saigon to State 266, 25 Jul 

USOM and GVN agree on AID package with no leverage. 

15-26 Aug Saigon to State 626, 26 Aug 

65 Lodge replaces Taylor, takes charge of the Embassy. Ky tells 

Lodge the U.S. forces should hold strategic points so that RVNAF 
can concentrate on pacification, and says that the Chieu Hoi Pro- 
gram is a waste of money. 

28 Aug 65 Saigon to State 671, 28 Aug 

Thi tells Lodge he can govern better than Ky can. 

22 Sep 65 COMUSMACV Command History 1965, p. 240 

COMUSMACV presents proposals for revitalization of Hop Tac 
to USOM. 

1 Oct 65 COMUSMACV Command History 1965, p. 240 

MACV begins four-month experiment with sector and subsector 
advisor funds. 

3 Nov 65 SecDef DPM 

McNamara urges more active role for U.S. advisors. 

15 Dec 65 COMUSMACV Command History 1965, p. 241 

JGS Directive AB 140 gives GVN military plan to support 1966 
Rural Construction program. 

24 Dec 65 State to Saigon 1855 31 Dec 

Beginning of 37 day bombing pause and peace offensive. 

6-8 Feb 66 State to Saigon 2252 4 Feb "Vietnam: Honolulu Conference- 
Summary of Goals and Status of Activity," 30 Mar 
Honolulu Conference to press GVN for action on pacification and 
on political and economic reforms. Thieu and Ky obligingly 
agreed to U.S. demands. Vice-President Humphrey flies with them 
back to Saigon. 

298 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

10 Mar 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, /?. 244 and passim; Saigon 
to State 3260 and 3265 9 Mar 

Ky persuades military leadership to approve his plan to exile I 
Corps Commander, General Thi. Thi resigns. 

12 Mar 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 245; and Saigon 3333 
14 Mar 

Annamese Buddhists and students begin demonstration in Danang 
and Hue. 

1 6 Mar 66 Saigon to State 3381 1 7 Mar 

Thi permitted to return to Danang to quiet demonstrations. 

March 1966 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 510 CINCUSARPAC 
24031 2Z May 
PROVN Study completed. 

3 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1 966, p. 824 

Ky declares Danang to be in Communist hands. 

5 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824; MACV to 

CINCPAC DTG 051125ZApr; Saigon to State 2986 5 Apr 
MACV airlifts two ARVN Ranger battalions to Danang. 1st 
ARVN division commander declares for the Struggle Movement; 
U.S. advisors withdrawn. 

6 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824 

Non-essential U.S. civilians removed from Hue. 

8 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824 

GVN flies two additional Ranger battalions to Danang after 
MACV refused to do so. 

9 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 824 

U.S. protest to Struggle Movement leaders induces them to pull 
back howitzers. Two hundred U.S. and third country civilians 
evacuated from Danang. 

12 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 324; Kahin and Lewis 
The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 256 

GVN withdraws its Ranger battalions from Danang. Relative quiet 

14 Apr 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 324; Kahin and Lewis 
The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 256 

The Directorate promises elections for a constituent assembly with 
3-5 months. Buddhists and others call off demonstrations. 

4 May 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 256; Saigon to State 

4368 4 May and 4605 15 May 

Ky publicly reneges on promises to hold August elections, says 
perhaps they will be possible by October. Lodge absent on long 
trip to Washington. Porter follows State guidance closely. 

75 May 66 State to Saigon 3448, 3449, 3450 and 3451 15 May 

GVN airlifts troops to Danang and Hue to quell new disorders. 
U.S. withholds airlift protests GVN failure to consult, withdraws 
advisors from both sides. 

US-GVN Relations 299 

16 May 66 Saigon to State 4627 and 4635 16 May 

USMC General Walt threatens to use U.S. jets to shoot down any 
VNAF aircraft used against dissident ARVN units. The threat 

21 May 66 State to Saigon 3575 21 May 

Lodge returns, tells Ky to be conciliatory, use force with restraint. 
He does around Saigon pogodas, but naked force in Hue produces 
self-immolations. U.S. evacuates its consulate and other facilities 

27 May 66 Saigon to State 4837 21 May 4849 and 4878 23 May, 4943 and 
4963 25 May, 4966 26 May, 5037 27 May, 5073 28 May, 5178 

I Jun, and 1947 7 Jul; Kahin and Lewis ibid. 

Ky and Thi meet; latter offered unspecified ARVN job. 

31 May 66 Saigon to State 5163 and 5178 1 Jun 

Ky meets leaders of the Buddhist Institute, offers civilian partici- 
pation in an enlarged Directorate. They appear conciliatory and 
agree to appointment of General Lam as Commander of I Corps. 

I Jun 66 NYTimes Article 

Student mob burns U.S. consulate and consular residence in Hue. 
Struggle Movement fills the streets with Buddhist altars. 

5 Jun 66 NYTimes Article 

Electoral Law Commission presents its proposals. 

18 Jun 66 NYTimes Article 

Piaster devalued to official rate of 80. 

18 Jun 66 Kahin and Lewis The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 257 

Anniversary of Thieu-Ky government proclaimed a GVN holiday; 
one-day general strike called by the Buddhists. 

19 Jun 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, pp. 258-59 

Directorate schedules elections for the Constituent Assembly for 

II September. 

22 Jun 66 Kahin and Lewis, The U.S. in Vietnam, p. 257. 

Conditions quiet in I Corps; GVN steadily regaining control. 

8-9 Jun 66 NYTimes Article 

Secretary McNamara visits Honolulu for talks with CINCPAC. 

31 Jul 66 State to Saigon 1694 29 Jul 2564 3 Aug 
Thi goes into exile. 

13-14 Aug NYTimes Article 

66 General Westmoreland reports to the President at his Texas ranch. 

24 Aug 66 "Roles and Missions" Study 24 Aug 

"Roles and Missions" Study to the Embassy. 

II Sep 66 NYTimes Article 

Constituent Assembly elections. 

4 Oct 66 Saigon to State 7616 4 Oct, 7732 and 7752 5 Oct, 6043 7 Oct, 
8681 17 Oct, 8749 18 Oct, 8833 19 Oct, 8839 20 Oct. State to Sai- 
gon 66781 14 Oct and 68339 18 Oct 

300 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. II 

GVN cabinet crisis brews as six civilian ministers, the only South- 
ern members threaten to resign. 

5 Oct 66 COMUSMACV Command History 1966, p. 526 

JGS chairs a high level joint conference to develop a schedule of 
action to implement road development. 

6 Oct 66 State to Saigon 49294 16 Sep 49399 17 Sep Saigon to State 6997 

27 Sep State to Saigon 58092 30 Sep 61330 6 Oct 58280 2 Oct 
Hanh and Komer reach vague and general agreement on GVN 
budget and financial matters. 

10-13 Oct 66 NY Times Article 

Secretary McNamara, accompanied by newly appointed Under 
Secretary of State Katzenback visits Saigon. Saigon Port conges- 
tion grows worse. 

14 Oct 66 SecDef Memorandum to the President 

In PM McNamara urges shift of ARVN to pacification, change of 
US responsibility to MACV, "drastic" reform of GVN. 

19 Oct 66 Saigon to State 7616 4 Oct, 7732 and 7752 5 Oct, 8681 17 Oct, 
8749 18 Oct, 8833 19 Oct, and 8839 20 Oct, State to Saigon 66781 
14 Oct, 68339 18 Oct 

Cabinet crisis patched up at least until after Manila Conference. 

24-25 Oct NYTimes Article Texts of Communique and Declarations Signed 

66 at Close of Manila Conference 26 Oct 

Manila conference of the seven nations aiding South Vietnam. 
Basic problem is still to get GVN commitment to action on non- 
military measures. 

1 Nov 66 Saigon to State 10312 7 Nov, 11958 29 Nov 

Promised GVN National Reconciliation proclamation fails to 
appear; instead only vague reference in a speech on other subjects. 
Ky promised a NR speech and proclamation in "early December." 

2 Nov 66 Saigon to State 9963 3 Nov 

Komer and Porter in Saigon reach agreement with GVN on foreign 

2 Nov 66 Saigon to State 7815 6 Oct and 8161 1 Oct 

Ky promises a tough decree on port management. 

18 Nov 66 Saigon to State 11249 18 Nov 11431 21 Nov State to Saigon 93314 

28 Nov 

General Quang, deposed IV Corps Commander, appointed to 
head the new cabinet portfolio "Planning and Development." 
Concern continues in Washington over AID diversions. 

21 Nov 66 COMUSMACV msg 50331 21 Nov 

In a policy statement, COMUSMACV tells advisors that deficien- 
cies of non-compliance are to be resolved within RVNAF chan- 

29 Nov 66 MACV Commanders Conference 20 Nov 

Washington reminds the Mission that GVN has not yet delivered 
on its Manila promises about NR, pacification, and land reform; 
suggests Lodge press Ky. 

US-GVN Relations 301 

2 Dec 66 Saigon to State 12321 2 Dec 

Saigon declines to suggest formation of a joint inspectorate general 
to follow up AID diversions. 

December Saigon to State 14009 22 Dec, 12733 7 Dec, 12908 and 12950 
1966 9 Dec, 13046 10 Dec, 14009 and 13023 22 Dec, 14112 23 Dec, 

14230 26 Dec 

Further GVN-USOM negotiations on the dollar balance problem. 

8 Dec 66 COMUSMACV to CINCPAC 080245Z Dec 

Ceremonial signing of the 1967 Combined Campaign Plan by 
COMUSMACV and Chief, JGS. 

December Saigon to State 15569 13 Jan 67 

1966 Saigon Port congestion grows worse during GVN port com- 

mander's "great barge" experiment. State authorizes drastic action 
which Saigon declines to use. 

21 Dec 66 COMUSMACV History 1966 pp. 471-72 

Chinh-Hunnicutt affair terminated with transfer of the U.S. ad- 
viser outside the theatre and issuance of a memorandum by the 
division commander stating that the past must be forgotten. 

January 1967 NY Times Article 

U Thant advances proposals for peace. President promises careful 
evaluation. Ky forsees negotiations nearing. Lodge predicts sen- 
sational military gains in 1967. 

2 Jan 67 Saigon to State 14725 2 Jan 

U.S. Mission estimates GVN inflationary budget gap at 14-20 
billion piasters. 

7 Jan 67 NYTimes Article 

Ky signs law providing for spring elections in 1000 villages and 
4000 hamlets. 

13 Jan 67 Saigon to State 15569 13 Jan 

Saigon resists Washington suggestion for complete MACV take- 
over of Saigon port. 

20 Jan 67 Saigon to State 16037 20 Jan 

GVN issues Cy 1967 budget of 75 billion piasters without prior 
consultation with U.S. 

23 Jan 67 State to Saigon 123223 21 Jan 

Renewed economic negotiations forseen with Hanh in Washington. 

24 Jan 67 NYTimes Article 

JGS Chief of Staff Vien appointed to replace corrupt Defense 
Minister Co, who is informed on visit to Taiwan not to return. 

20 Feb 67 Saigon to State 18646 22 Feb 

GVN agrees to work on an interim memorandum of understand- 
ing to include implementation of the previous November's foreign 
exchange agreements. Komer threatens to reduce CIP; Hanh hints 
at a raise in the piaster rate. 

24 Feb 67 NYTimes Article State to Saigon 140250 19 Feb Saigon to State 
18303 18 Feb 

Ky postpones U.S. visit to assure free and fair elections. 

302 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. II 

10 Mar 67 Saigon to State 19902 9 Mar, 20053 10 Mar, 20201 13 Mar, State 
to Saigon 153512 11 Mar 

U.S. announces military jurisdiction over American civilians, thus 
skirts the problems of corrupt GVN justice and status of forces. 

1 7 Mar 67 State to Saigon 157064 1 7 Mar 

Another "Interim Agreement" reached with GVN on foreign ex- 

19 Mar 67 NYTimes Article 

Constituent Assembly unanimously approves new constitution. 
Next day it is unanimously approved by the military junta and a 
copy presented to President Johnson at Guam meetings between 
top level GVN-US leadership. 

20-21 Mar NYTimes Article Joint Communique Guam Meetings 21 Mar 
67 Guam meetings between top level GVN-US leadership. President 

Johnson introduces the new U.S. team in Saigon; Bunker to be 
Ambassador, Locke his deputy, Komer the new pacification czar 
within the MACV framework. 

6 Apr 67 NYTimes Article 

General Abrams appointed Deputy to COMUSMACV. 

18 Apr 67 Saigon to State 23376 18 Apr 

GVN issues a National Reconciliation proclamation that proves 
to be a mirage; it emphasizes solidarity vice reconciliation. 

25 Apr 67 NYTimes Article Saigon to State 23749 23 Apr 
Lodge completes his stint, leaves Saigon. 

27 Apr 67 NYTimes Article 

General Westmoreland confers with LBJ in Washington, addresses 
Congress the next day. 

7 May 67 COMUSMACV MAC J 341 15064 to CINCPAC 071035Z May 

General Westmoreland reports on his command project to improve 
RVNAF performance, offers $7800 saving in cut-off of MAP sup- 
port to two VNN fishing boats as sign of progress. ARVN evalua- 
tion only partially completed. 

12 May 67 NYTimes Article Saigon to State 25554 12 May 

Premier Ky announces he will seek the Presidency. Thieu-Ky 
rivalry intensifies. 

20 Jun 67 Saigon to State 28409 20 Jun 

Thieu and Ky invited to informal luncheon hosted by Bunker at 
which unity of the Armed Forces is discussed. 

22 Jun 67 State to Saigon 213380 22 Jun 

Mission estimates rate of inflation in SVN to be 45-50% per year. 

29-30 Jun Saigon to State 29258 30Jun 

67 The Armed Forces Council of 50-60 officers holds two day con- 

tinuous session from which emerges the Thieu-Ky ticket. 

7-8 Jul 67 NYTimes Article OSD(SA) Memorandum 25 Jul, "SecDef VN 
Trip Briefings" 

Secretary McNamara makes his 9th visit to SVN. 

US-GVN Relations 303 

17 Jul 67 NYTimes Article Saigon to State 1381 to 19 Jul 1475 20 Jul 

CA approves Thieu-Ky ticket; rejects the threatening Big Minh 

24-25 Jul NYTimes Article 

67 Clifford-Taylor mission receives Saigon briefings. 

12 Aug 67 NYTimes Article 

Army C/S General H. K. Johnson reports we are winning, latest 
45,000 man troop increase to be the last. 

26 Aug 67 AmEmb Saigon to SecDef, Blueprint for Viet-Nam, 26 Aug 
Mission completes "Blueprint for Vietnam." 

3 Sep 67 NYTimes Article 

Elections for President and Senate. 


First Half of 1964 


The top ruling body of the Government of Vietnam at the end of 1963 was 
a Military Revolutionary Council of twelve generals, under the chairmanship 
of the affable and popular but weak General Duong Van "Big" Minh. The 
Council governed through an all-civilian cabinet headed by Premier Tho, having 
forbade all military officers to engage in politics. A Council of Notables served 
as a pseudo-parliament, with a purely advisory role; it included well-known Viet- 
namese politicians, but could not claim support of a broad popular base or the 
main political forces in Vietnam. While Premier Tho's previous connection with 
the Diem government was now a political liability, there was a shortage of 
national figures who were not tarred with this brush one way or another. 

On the U.S. side, General Harkins, COMUSMACV, who had long been known 
to be pro-Diem, was clearly on his way out, although his departure was to be de- 
layed until the middle of 1964. Ambassador Lodge had replaced Nolting just 
before the Diem coup, and was held in that cautious respect appropriate to 
the widespread belief among Vietnamese that he had engineered it. 

In the last weeks of 1963, the U.S. government reassessed the progress of the 
counterinsurgency effort and the policy options. Plans for phased withdrawal 
of 1,000 U.S. advisers by end- 1963 went through the motions by concentrating 
rotations home in December and letting strength rebound in the subsequent two 
months. A realistic appraisal by Secretary McNamara showed that the VC were 
continuing to gain steadily, especially in the Delta. U.S. policy continued to be 
to provide U.S. resources and personnel to the extent necessary. 

The tone of USG internal documents and of its dealings with GVN was that 
of a benevolent big brother anxious to see little brother make good on his own — 
but with the benefit of extensive advice. U.S. pressure induced the GVN to break 
up the palace guard and to move coup-protection Ranger units out into the 
countryside, though it turned out that other units stayed near Saigon for this 
purpose. A proposal to put all ammunition stocks in Vietnam under U.S. control 
surfaced in November, onl